DirecTV sets original drama for Audience Network

Satcaster hopes 'Rogue,' other exclusive skeins enhance service's value to subs

DirecTV aims to fortify its hold on its 20 million U.S. subscribers by stepping up the volume of original programming on its Audience Network channel, including its first wholly original scripted drama series.

DirecTV has given a 10-episode order to “Rogue,” a suspense drama starring Thandie Newton as a morally conflicted cop, to bow in summer 2013. In July, Audience Network will add a nightly TV iteration of “Nick and Artie Show,” the comedic sports talk radio program hosted by Howard Stern regulars Nick DiPaolo and Artie Lange. It will serve as the latenight (10 p.m.-1 a.m.) complement to Audience’s daily 9 a.m.-noon simulcast of “The Dan Patrick Show.”

The satcaster has been beefing up the sked of its in-house entertainment channel for the past year, even since the erstwhile 101 Network was rebranded as the Audience Network last June (Daily Variety, May 13, 2011). Programmers have honed the focus to edgy dramas — many of them imports from Canada, the U.K. and Oz and off-net buys like “The Wire” — as well as male-leaning comedy and sports programming in an effort to help Audience attract a distinct demographic.

“The number-one reason for us to do (‘Rogue’) is to impress our customers that we are giving them premium content for free,” said Chris Long, DirecTV’s senior veep of entertainment and production. “We want to create enough inertia that when (subscribers) at home are bombarded with competitors’ offers, they stay with us because of this premium content.”

DirecTV during the past few years has made opportunistic forays into original series with “Damages,” which it picked up last year after FX dropped the Glenn Close starrer, and “Friday Night Lights,” which it rescued from cancellation by cutting a window-sharing pact with NBC in 2008.

But “Rogue” marks the satcaster’s first homegrown original series. The field for cable drama series is incredibly crowded these days, with Cinemax joining the fray, Starz upping its volume and even mid-tier outlets like Reelz Channel commissioning original skeins.

“Rogue” came to DirecTV as a spec script by Matthew Parkhill from eOne Entertainment, Momentum Entertainment and producer-director Nick Hamm’s Greenroom Entertainment. DirecTV was looking for a show to be a 2013 centerpiece for Audience because “Damages” will wrap its five-season run later this year. The satcater already had a relationship with eOne from licensing the Canadian comedy “Call Me Fitz” for Audience.

Long was impressed by the complexity of the lead character, a cop who is involved with a crime boss who may have played a part in the death of her son. Show is set in Oakland, Calif., but will lense primarily in Vancouver starting in August.

“Those guys (at eOne) really understand what we’re trying to accomplish and they were open to doing a different business model,” Long said. “That really helped us afford to do a premium-type show without having to pay a huge price.”

DirecTV co-owns the series 50-50 with eOne, a deal point that helped the satcaster make the economics work. DirecTV will share in international revenue generated by the show as well as other licensing opportunities. Long said DirecTV wouldn’t be opposed to making it available on another U.S. outlet for a second window, though for now there are no immediate plans to do so as DirecTV wants to make the most of its exclusivity.

EOne will handle worldwide sales of the series. International financing will be key for the show, as it is with most eOne productions. It’s already set up with two Canuck outlets, Astral’s Movie Network and Corus Entertainment’s Movie Central.

Hamm serves as exec producer along with eOne’s John Morayniss and Michael Rosenberg. Momentum Entertainment’s Steven Marrs will also exec produce, with Parkhill serving as supervising producer.

EOne had no hesitation in partnering with DirecTV on “Rogue,” even though the distribution will be limited to DirecTV’s U.S. universe. And because DirecTV is a part owner, there may be downstream opportunities to showcase the program if it generates enough heat with viewers.

“The audience will find a great show,” Rosenberg said. “There’s too many platforms for programming now, and the audience is getting too sophisticated to not find what’s out there.”

Long has said the goal is to build up to two or more exclusive original skeins a year in the coming years. But for now, he and Audience Network g.m. and veep Patty Ishimoto are laser-focused on making as big a splash as possible with “Rogue.”

“We have one shot in my mind to make a good impression with customers,” he said.

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