After finding success in filling its primetime schedule with documentary films and docu-series, CNN will continue the strategy in months to come, launching three new docu-series and five new efforts under its CNN Films banner in 2016.
W. Kamau Bell, the former FX host, and author Reza Aslan will each host a new docu-series, while actor Kevin Spacey will produce and narrate a new series focused on various Presidential races. Mike Rowe, John Walsh, Anthony Bourdain, Morgan Spurlock and Lisa Ling will all return for new seasons of their respective programs. CNN will co-produce five new films under its CNN Films unit, each of which is expected to debut in U.S. theaters before appearing on its U.S. network.
The original programming “is a really important part of our agenda of audience and advertiser growth,” said Jeff Zucker, president of CNN Worldwide, in an interview. “We have made a huge push in new original series, and the reason we have done that is to smooth out the peaks and valleys of the news cycle, so that between news cycles we have programming to offer, and to open ourselves to a different bucket of advertisers.” Zucker said CNN had gained 60 new advertisers through its original-series efforts.
The network is unveiling its new schedule in hopes of generating attention during the “upfront” market, the annual sales process during which U.S. TV networks try to sell the bulk of their ad inventory for the coming programming year. CNN has some reason to cheer: The network has seen many of its programs surpass those of rival cable-news outlet MSNBC in the ratings. CNN’s “New Day,” for example, is winning more viewers than MSNBC’s “Morning Joe.”
Already, said Donna Speciale, president of ad sales for CNN’s parent, Turner Broadcasting, CNN has hosted executives from various media agencies in recent days, touting not only the new primetime series, but CNN Money, the financial-news web site that recently came under CNN’s aegis after being shared with Time Inc.; CNN’ s political coverage; new efforts at sister cable network HLN; and digital efforts.
Zucker said advertisers could expect a stable lineup on CNN’s U.S. network after watching the network experiment for some time with new programs and concepts. “Our lineup is set now. It has been set now for several months,” he said. “We feel really good about where we are. We are stable. We are confident, and we are successful.”
Bell will host “United Shades of America,” a documentary series that looks at different cultures in the United States with provocative humor. Aslan will lead “Believer,” a series CNN is billing as a “spiritual adventure series” in which the author will immerse himself in the rituals of various faith-based cultures. “Shades” is produced by Objective Productions, part of All3Media, while “Believer” is produced by Whalerock Industries.
CNN’s original films include “Steve Jobs: The Man In The Machine,” directed by Alex Gibney. The movie takes a candid look at the former leader of Apple and is set to premiere at the film festival at SXSW in Austin on March 14. “Unseen Enemy,” directed and produced by Janet Tobias, will explore virulent viruses and bacteria that could start a global epidemic. The movie is slated to reach theaters in the fall of 2015.
“Sunshine Superman” is directed by Marah Strauch and profiles skydiver Carl Boenish through archival footage, aerial filmed photography and filmed re-enactments. An untitled film directed by Jenny Carchman will look at James Arthur Ray, a self-help guru who spent two years in prison after three people died in a retreat he led in Sedona, Arizona. An untitled biography directed by Lydia Tengalia will focus on celebrity chef Jeremiah Tower.