Cabler aims to greenlight scripted series by 2012

Chiller is looking to turn up the heat.

The NBCUniversal-owned horror cabler is beefing up production with the goal of greenlighting a scripted series by 2012.

Syfy and Chiller prexy Dave Howe looks to be building on the model that has seen Syfy use lower-cost unscripted fare as a building block for signature originals. He confirmed that Chiller, after anchoring its reality slate with “Fear Factor,” is shopping for new content, approaching writers and helmers for original material that will fit last year’s rebrand of the channel.

One of the main advantages for Chiller as it looks to grow, Howe said, is its market share in horror TV programming.

“It’s a uniquely branded destination, just as Syfy was 15, 17 years ago,” Howe said. “What’s key to that is investing in original content.”

Chiller management is looking to tap into a burgeoning new aud for horror content. HBO’s Blood,” AMC’s “The Walking Dead” and many mainstream pics with horror elements have begun to free the genre from its stigma as fare for male nerds.

“The horror genre actually skews more young female than it does male,” Howe said. “These are regular, down-home guys and gals who get a kick out of this stuff not because they’re weird or odd but because they like that adrenaline rush.”

For the immediate future, the net is amping up its reality slate by purchasing the rights to English-speaking format versions of “Fear Factor” from the U.K. (26 segs), South Africa (43) and Australia (seven), along with reruns of the U.S. version. The acquisition gives the net a programming anchor: a “Fear Factor” block for the next three years that Chiller can build upon.

Film is also a major part of the net’s strategy over the next few years. Horror hyphenate Larry Fessenden will direct and produce (through his shingle Glass Eye Pix) the original telepic “Beneath” for the net, with an airdate in 2012. The net has two other previously announced movies coming up, both pegged to known horror writers: “Brian Keene’s Ghoul” and “Steve Niles’ Remains.”

Thomas Vitale, exec VP of programming and original movies for Syfy and Chiller, commissioned these originals, and Howe said the net plans to “squeeze in a scripted series for 2012″ as well. The net said Wednesday that it has hired former NBCU corporate finance group honcho Rob Spodek as CFO for Syfy and Chiller.

Beyond producing original content, though, the net is also in a position to acquire popular theatrical films that appeal to its aud but aren’t going to show up on USA on a Saturday afternoon anytime soon.

“There’s a lot of content — the ‘Saw’ movies for instance,” said Howe. “No one’s queueing up for those movies. And a lot of the lower-budget theatrical movies are just sitting there because they don’t play on a lot of mainstream general entertainment networks.”

And when it comes to budget-minded programming, there are few execs cannier than Howe.

Syfy took some grief from hardcore genre fans for the net’s emphasis on unscripted series, including professional wrestling, but the fiscal success of those shows enabled the net to program more scripted shows like “Alphas,” “Being Human” and “Warehouse 13.”

Howe indicated that he’ll be applying a similar model to Chiller over the next few years.

“We want to do more specials,” Howe said, referencing the good play it got from “Chiller 13: The Decade’s Scariest Movie Moments.” “We’ve got ‘Horror’s Creepiest Kids’ coming up at Halloween. The intention is to increase that year-on-year as our ad sales increases and our distribution increases.”

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