Cable networks start summer blitz

Week starting July 11 features season bows for 20 original shows

While the July 4 weekend invariably lights up the skies all across America, cable networks are planning their own fireworks display the following week. At least 20 new and returning cable series premiere between July 11 and 18, making it the most crowded show-debut period of the summer.

From Syfy to TNT, FX to HGTV and beyond, it’s a week-long free-for-all designed to make a quick hit when broadcast rivals are comparatively quiet and auds are most likely to sample fresh fare.

Syfy alone has six premieres in the week, including the series debut of scripted drama “Alphas”( July 11 at 10 p.m.), which airs opposite the second-season premiere of “Rizzoli & Isles” on TNT.

Syfy/Chiller president Dave Howe says the volume of series premieres is an ongoing concern, but cable executives have to stake their claim when it makes the most sense for their network. Syfy execs chose the week of July 11 because it’s safely past the July 4 holiday weekend and would enable the network’s programs to play out their runs before the broadcasters ramp up their fall premieres in late September.

Syfy will air three scripted dramas on Monday nights — “Eureka” and “Warehouse 13” join “Alphas” — in part because it’s a night where there’s no scripted competition from sister network USA, which has wrestling in primetime on Monday.

As for competition with TNT, Howe says there’s minimal audience overlap.

“?’Warehouse 13′ and ‘Eureka’ have a dramedy element to them, and both of the TNT shows are very procedural,” he says.

The Syfy and TNT scripted shows will kick off opposite a new season of “Design Star” on HGTV, whose general manager, Kathleen Finch, says she’s comfortable with the competitive landscape.

“‘Design Star’ is a huge ratings driver for us. It’s on every year, and our audience is waiting for it,” she says. “It would be different if we were going out of the gate with a brand new show no one had heard of.”

Finch says this year HGTV will use “Design Star” to help goose its other shows, playing sneak peeks of other upcoming series after each episode.

Meanwhile, on DirecTV’s the Audience Network former FX series “Damages” debuts July 13 in a revived version — opposite the final season of “Rescue Me” on FX.

FX president John Landgraf says the “Rescue Me” date was picked so the 9/11-themed drama series will air its last episode the week of the 10th anniversary of the terrorist attacks on New York and Washington. He says premiere dates are often dictated by other factors. FX premiered “Louie” and “Wilfred” in June, for example, in part to avoid competing against hockey or basketball playoffs.

“We program 52 weeks a year virtually, but we have a tendency to take off some time in May and June because, being more male-oriented, late post-season basketball can be significant (competition) for us,” Landgraf says. “But we want to get shows on early in the summer, because August is the month of family vacations, and people are in transit.”

Landgraf says he’s not overly concerned with multiple premieres in a single week, because different cable networks target so many different audiences.

Very few shows create the significant gravitational pull to be a formidable competitor, he says. Shows to avoid lining up against include “American Idol” and, in FX’s case, “Jersey Shore,” “which reaches (such) a level of younger viewers that it could be significant competition.”

Todd Gordon, senior veep for national broadcast at Initiative U.S., says he sees the rising tide of original cable programming as a positive, even if many shows debut in the same week.

“As an ad buyer, it’s great that in the summer on a random week there’s a tremendous amount of original, high-quality content,” Gordon says. “Cable has been successful in proving over the past bunch of seasons that an off-time of year doesn’t have to be a dead time.”

He says a competitive cable week in the summer isn’t that different from the program-jockying on broadcast between September and May.

“When you compare that to what’s happening during a typical week during the traditional broadcasters’ season, I don’t know that (a possible programming glut is) much of a concern,” he says. “It’s a bunch of shows targeting a pretty diverse range of audiences across a lot of networks spread across the week. It’s reassuring that that many networks are producing original stuff and going after it.”

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