FX, Lifetime see bucks, branding in new beachhead

A number of cablers are determined to conquer television’s final frontier: latenight.

FX will field two provocative unscripted half-hours this summer, topical, pop culture-driven shows fronted by Russell Brand and W. Kamau Bell. Lifetime is adding a femme-focused interview show hosted by British TV personality Amanda de Cadenet.

Bravo made a big move in the post-primetime daypart at the start of this year in expanding Andy Cohen’s “Watch What Happens” franchise from a weekly berth to a live Sunday-Thursday run.

The expansion of original programming ambitions beyond primetime is a natural evolutionary step for established basic cablers. First and foremost, there are advertising dollars to be had; according to Kantar Media, marketers spent about $4.1 billion last year on cable latenight (defined as 11 p.m.-5 a.m.), up from $3.9 billion in 2010.

It’s also a way to capitalize on investments in other original series programming by channeling that audience into other homegrown fare rather than into reruns or off-network acquisitions. (Sometimes it works the other way around: TBS recently gave a much-needed “Big Bang Theory” lead-in boost to its investment in Conan O’Brien.)

But just as important to programmers is the opportunity to enhance the channel’s brand image by putting its spin on latenight programming, as Comedy Central has done for years with the inimitable “Daily Show” and “The Colbert Report.”

When FX execs first heard that British comedian Brand was shopping his idea for a TV show that would feature him riffing on headlines, politics and pop culture with a studio audience, they pursued it aggressively because he and the concept seemed such a perfect fit with FX’s edgy scripted comedies, according to Nick Grad, FX’s exec veep of original programming.

Bell teamed with Chris Rock as a producer on a presentation reel for a show designed to tackle head on taboo subjects ranging from race, religion and politics to the media and sex in a weekly half-hour. The prototype sold itself in the room, according to Grad.

FX tried a more conventional latenight yakker approach (a couch, celeb guests, etc.) nearly a decade ago with “The Orlando Jones Show,” which flamed out pretty quickly.

“A big hallmark of our brand is originality,” says Grad. “We’re not doing a latenight show just to do a latenight show, but we see (Brand and Bell) as extensions of our comedy brand. We define that as shows that are really funny but also have a really strong point of view about something.”

The Brand show, “Strangely Uplifting,” is set to bow Thursday, June 28, at 11 p.m., coming out of the season preems of “Wilfred” and “Louie.” The Bell show will bow later in the summer, possibly on the same night but not as a companion to Brand. FX has given both shows an initial six-seg order.

Lifetime is pairing the April 26 launch of “The Conversation With Amanda de Cadenet” at 11 p.m. with the 10 p.m. bow of reality skein “7 Days of Sex.” The hourlong show, exec produced by Demi Moore, promises “intimate” interviews with Lifetime-friendly stars such as Jane Fonda, Lady Gaga, Gwyneth Paltrow, Miley Cyrus and Eva Longoria, as well a “Women on the Street” seg showcasing regular-gal concerns. Show has an eight-episode order.

The timing of the latenight push by FX and Lifetime is no coincidence. As upfront selling season approaches, programming expansion signals a cabler on the move.

“Our sales guys love the idea of (latenight shows),” Grad says. “They’ve been able to sell our comedy brand really well. When we say that we’re going to add to it, they say ‘Yes, please.’ ”

The global ‘Touch’

Have Kiefer, will travel.

Fox’s (nearly) global day-and-date launch of drama series “Touch” produced the desired results last week. The Kiefer Sutherland starrer opened big in the U.K., Italy, Germany, Spain, Russia and Latin America, among other markets.

The success of “Touch” and other such rollouts, spurred by Fox Intl. Channels’ innovative handling of “The Walking Dead,” ensures that a worldwide launch will become de rigueur for big TV bets just as it is for blockbuster features.

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