Fast-growing cabler reups two other skeins from Zodiak USA

Turner’s fast-growing TruTV is doubling down on the pawn biz, ordering a sixth season of its top-rated “Hardcore Pawn” and a spinoff series set at shop in North Carolina specializing in guns and weaponry.

“Hardcore Pawn: Fort Bragg” will be set at Guns Plus, located in Spring Lake, N.C., near the sprawling Fort Bragg military base. Spinoff, which has a seven-episode order, will focus on the military men who run the shop and the backstories of the service vets who, for a range of reasons, bring their weapons to the store.

Both “Pawn” skeins are produced by Zodiak USA. TruTV has also ordered 13 more episodes of Zodiak’s “Lizard Lick Towing” skein, now its second season.

The orders come as TruTV looks to maintain its momentum from the past year as it ascends to the ranks of basic cable’s top 10 nets. The cabler formerly known as CourtTV has carved out a niche in the crowded world of unscripted cable shows with an emphasis on comedic reality fare.

“Many of our competitors tend to take a very earnest look at their subject matter,” said Marc Juris, TruTV’s exec veep and chief operating officer. “We felt, like in life, you need as much comedy as you need drama. We thought that was a place that no one else has really mined. We’re looking for shows that capture a sense of the outrageous, with big, outsized characters.”

“Hardcore Pawn” is wrapping up the first half of its most-watched season to date, averaging 2.9 million viewers in its Tuesday 9 p.m. timeslot. “Lizard Lick Towing,” revolving around a married couple who run a towing and auto repo service in Wendell, N.C., has averaged 1.6 million viewers in its Monday 10 p.m. slot so far this season.

TruTV also has enjoyed a big ratings boost from its recent acquisition of off-network episodes of ABC’s stunt-competish series “Wipeout.”

The cabler’s biggest strength against its basic-cable competish is its appeal to men in the 18-34 and 18-49 demos. Last month TruTV hit ratings highs with an average of 1.2 million viewers in primetime, up 4% from January 2011, and 379,000 in men 18-49, up 5%. In adults 18-49, it was up 8% to 673,000.

Grant Mansfield, CEO of Zodiak USA and an exec producer of the “Pawn” franchise, said the focus that Juris and his team bring to the development and production process is refreshing to producers. He was surprised when Juris cited Comedy Central as a network that TruTV saw as a prime competitor, but it has helped guide their decision-making on various shows.

Zodiak is also producing for TruTV the upcoming series “Killer Karaoke,” which challenges contestants to keep crooning while unexpected things happen to them and around them. Juris calls it “‘Wipeout’ meets ‘American Idol’ meets ‘Fear Factor.'” Zodiak wasn’t even thinking about pitching the show to TruTV until Juris pushed them to tell him about projects that the Zodiak team didn’t think were right for TruTV.

“They are very good executives to work for,” Mansfield said. “They have a very clear focus on what they want and Marc cares passionately about every one of his shows. He’s very involved in the development process.”

“Fort Bragg” marks a bit of a departure from the zany-reality approach. The show will emphasize the personal histories of the men and women who populate Guns Plus, which also handles custom modifications of military-issued weaponry for soldiers.

“There’s a very patriotic feeling about this show,” Juris said. “It shows you a different side of the (people) who are serving in the military and what veterans go through. Everybody who walks in there has really unique stories. The world of pawn shops has been made very popular by television, but (Guns Plus) is a unique world within that world.”

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