Fuse sparks to new muse

Network looks to reinvent itself with new shows

Cablevision’s long-neglected Fuse cabler is looking to reinvent itself, starting with an ambitious new roster of music-themed series.

Recently hired programming topper Matt Farber is set to announce the net’s image makeover and programming slate at Fuse’s inaugural upfront event Thursday. The gathering — which will include a perf by Wyclef Jean — also reps the first major coming-out party for Fuse since oversight of the net shifted last year from Rainbow Media to Madison Square Garden (and Eric Sherman took over as the channel’s prexy).

Not only has MSG upped Fuse’s programming budget, but it will also open Fuse’s first-ever West Coast offices later this year.

“There’s a real investment in terms of resources, personnel and corporate backing,” said Farber, an MTV Networks alum who more recently helped launch Logo. “This will allow Fuse to experience success in a way that it’s never enjoyed. … By switching from Rainbow to the MSG division, we’re more of a priority within the Cablevision family now. At Rainbow, there wasn’t that level of investment.”

Farber said he’s looking to steer Fuse away from its over-reliance on musicvideos, but still keep the channel music-focused. Additionally, Fuse’s musicvideo focus was too centered on independent rock, something he’s now looking to broaden.

Farber has at least eight original series in development. That includes “Garage Band All-Stars,” featuring celebs from the worlds of Hollywood, sports and pop culture attempting to form a jam band. 3 Ball Prods. (“The Biggest Loser”) is behind the show.

“Bling and a Prayer,” from Swift River Prods., pairs a Christian rock band and hip-hop troupe and puts them on tour. “Sound Barrier,” from Authentic Ent., is a gamer that pits pals with dramatically different music tastes to see if they can master each other’s interests.

“Barely Vocal,” from Zig Zag Prods., is an elimination competition series that finds aspiring singers who are toiling as waitresses, bartenders and exotic dancers and puts them through a battery of music-themed challenges.

Then there’s “Wild Side,” from Screaming Fleas Prods., which looks at bizarre fringe music trends across the world.

Meanwhile, Fuse is already set to launch two shows: Next week, the cabler bows a series chronicling the backstage antics of rockers NOFX as they embark on a world tour; and in June, the “Rock and Roll Acid Test” will test rock ‘n’ roll myths to see if they stand up to legend.

The channel has also acquired a library of music-themed movies, such as “Get Rich or Die Trying,” “Empire Records,” “Wayne’s World” and “Purple Rain.”

Farber said the channel isn’t completely retreating from its musicvideo franchises; it’s even looking to hire a new group of on-air hosts to add a little personality to the programs.

But it has indeed retreated from the franchise for which it has been best known in recent years: “Pants-Off Dance-Off.” The show, which features ordinary people stripping to musicvideos, doesn’t quite fit into his vision of Fuse’s future, Farber said.

As for the new MSG management, Fuse is already taking advantage of the relationship, launching the concert franchise “Fuse Rocks the Garden” in February with an uncut Foo Fighters concert. Fuse plans to roll out “Fuse Rocks the Garden” quarterly.

Simultaneously with the programming relaunch, Fuse will also give its on-air appearance an overhaul.

“Over the coming weeks and months, an entire new interface for the channel will be rolled out,” Farber said.

Fuse came into existence as a U.S. feed of Canada’s MuchMusic channel. Rainbow later retooled it for American auds as MuchMusic USA; channel morphed into Fuse in 2003.

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