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Upfront: Viacom’s CMT Will Launch Nightly Talk Show, Billy Ray Cyrus Comedy

CMT will launch a five-nights-a-week talk show and debut a scripted comedy starring Billy Ray Cyrus, the first time the Viacom-owned network has tried either format, as part of an ambitious effort to grow its audience.

“It’s the biggest, broadest attack we’ve ever mounted,” said Jayson Dinsmore, executive vice president of development for CMT, in an interview. “If feels like we have a lot of avenues with which we can hopefully cume a much bigger audience over time.”

The new programming comes as CMT met with mixed performance in 2014. The network was able to gain in the amount it charged distributors to run its programming, moving to 12 cents per subscriber per month compared with 11 cents in 2013, according to market-research firm SNL Kagan. Ad revenue at CMT fell 3.1% to about $114.5 million in 2014, according to Kagan, compared with around $118.2 million in the previous year. Executives are hoping to make further strides with technology advertisers and automotive marketers.

The talk show, “The Josh Wolf Show,” will air nightly from Wednesday to Saturday starting June 11, and focus on comedy and sketches involving country-music stars and Hollywood celebrities. Wolf, who was a regular on Chelsea Handler’s “Chelsea Lately” on E!, is expected to do much more than interview guest about their latest project, Dinsmore said. “We are big fans of what Jimmy Fallon has done in latenight. He has really turned that show into an opportunity to push things out virally,” said Dinsmore. Wolf’s show, he added, “is much more of an interactive experience.”

Handler is an executive producer on “The Josh Wolf Show,” as are Brad Wollack and Tom Brunells of Free 90 Media.

“Still the King” will feature Cyrus as “Burning Vernon” Brown, a washed up one-hit wonder who is kicked out of country music, only to emerge 20 years later as the second best Elvis impersonator in Laughlin, Nevada. After crashing into an old country church outside of Nashville during a drunken bender, he is sentenced to return and perform community service. Along the way, he pretends to be the congregation’s new minister and discovers he has a 15-year-old daughter he’s never met.

The show is “truly the brainchild of Billy Ray Cyrus,” said Brian Philips, CMT’s president, in an interview. “He hits multiple generations, and the guy can act. We thought if we were going to get into this world, let’s do it with someone who has a proven track record and someone we’ve known for a very long time.” The series is produced by Hideout Pictures with Billy Ray Cyrus serving as executive producer and writer. Shannon Houchins, Potsy Ponciroli and Travis Nicholson also executive produce. Julia Silverton and Jayson Dinsmore exec produce for CMT.

“I Love Kellie Pickler” will launch in September and follow the star and her marriage to Kyle Jacobs, who is her complete opposite. The program is produced by Ryan Seacrest with executive producers Ryan Seacrest, Eugene Young, Rabih Gholam, Kellie Pickler and Kyle Jacobs. Jayson Dinsmore and Morgan Selzer executive produce for CMT.

CMT will launch the documentary series “Gainesville,” which follows a tight-knit group of friends in small town Florida as they attempt to transition into adulthood. “Gainesville” is produced by Wheels Off Entertainment, a division of Brick City TV, with Yoav Attias, Nicholas Burnett, Daniel Levin and Alan Deutsch as executive producers. Jayson Dinsmore, Lewis Bogach, and John Miller-Monzon executive produce for CMT. The network will also debut “The Ed Bassmaster Show,” featuring the YouTube celebrity known for pranks and skits in his first TV show. The program is executive produced by Tony Di Santo and Liz Gateley through DiGa Vision. Additional executive producers include Adam Dolgins and Tom Gianis. Matt Trierweiler exec produces for CMT.

CMT is set in 2016 to launch a limited series, “American Speed: The True Story of NASCAR,” billed as a “high-octane account” of the true story behind the racing institution. It will be narrated by Dale Earnhardt Jr. The series is executive produced by Stephen David of Stephen David Entertainment and Zane Stoddard for NASCAR. Jayson Dinsmore, Lewis Bogach and John Miller-Monzon executive produce for CMT.

CMT will launch new seasons of “Party Down South,” “Party Down South 2,” and “Steve Austin’s Broken Skull Challenge”; air music events such as “CMT Music Awards,” “CMT Artists of the Year,” and “CMT Championship Kickoff Party”; and run the drama “Friday Night Lights,” starring Kyle Chandler and Connie Britton, starting in May.

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