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HLN Will Add S.E. Cupp as Host, Introduce New Original Series on Friday Nights (EXCLUSIVE)

No matter how many changes HLN has seen in recent years, one thing has stood as a constant: multiple airings of “Forensic Files,” a documentary series about crime-solving techniques that has, over the years, aired on TLC, CourtTV, CNN and even for a brief time on NBC.

HLN hopes to cut back on the program in months to come, even though at present it fills about 90 hours a week on the Time Warner-owned outlet.

“We are reducing the network’s reliance on a single series, however successful that series has been,” says Ken Jautz, the CNN executive vice president who oversees HLN’s operations. “There is going to be more focus on original series.”

HLN executives are unveiling the latest steps in their efforts to revamp the network, which has for years served as a sort of flanker to sister CNN, all the while casting about for a new identity. After spending time establishing a new daytime schedule of new anchors – Carol Costello, Erica Hill and Michaela Pereira will follow morning stalwart Robin Meade – Jautz and other senior CNN executives are prepared to season primetime with documentary series about investigation and mystery, and will also add S.E. Cupp to its early-evening programming, where she will, starting some time in June, lead into Ashleigh Banfield’s program at 8 p.m.

“We are trying to bring high-quality appointment television to HLN primetime, being very mindful that the audience is a little bit younger than CNN’s, a little bit more Midwestern, and has known HLN to be the home of ‘Forensic Files,’” notes Amy Entelis, executive vice president for talent and content at CNN Worldwide. “We think we can deliver a high-quality product that touches on similar themes to that show.” Last year, HLN began airing some of CNN’s non-fiction series – including “The Hunt” hosted by John Walsh, in a Friday-night block.

One of the new programs will be “Beyond Reasonable Doubt,” slated to debut Friday, June 2 at 9 p.m. from Nutopia and executive producer Jane Root, the team behind CNN’s “Finding Jesus” series. In an interview, Root described a series that will likely tantalize fans of detective work (one episode centers on a mutilated body found tucked inside an old, forgotten water drum) and new kinds of data and tracking.  “It’s a personal, human story set against a background of amazing science,” she said.

“Something’s Killing Me,” scheduled to launch Friday, July 21, at 9 p.m., is a medical mystery series that looks at puzzling maladies like a fatal form of insomnia or anthrax poisoning and tracks teams of doctors, scientists and even federal investigators as they race to save a life. The series is produced by CNN.

Hard-charging CNN morning anchor Chris Cuomo will host “Inside Secret Places with Chris Cuomo,” which is slated to debut Friday, November 3 at 9 p.m. This investigative series, also produced internally by CNN’s development team, will take viewers behind the scenes of situations that few experience. Episodes include an inside look at sex trafficking.

The second season of “How it Really Happened With Hill Harper,” also produced by CNN, is scheduled to begin Friday, September 15, at 9 p.m.

Cupp, a right-of-center pundit who has in the past been known for hosting programs about politics (CNN’s “Crossfire” among them), says she hopes to bring a broader palette to HLN. “I think it’s inarguable that there’s still a lot to talk about when it comes to politics, but I also think like a lot of regular people, we are kind of looking to talk about some other stuff again,” she says. “These are not the conversations shaping up in the halls of Capitol Hill, but the conversations on your back porch.” Her show will also tackle pop culture, parenting, sports and crime, she says, and rely on a “family of panelists” that could include comedians and commentators. “You won’t always agree with me, but I’ll always be honest and I will ask my guests to be the same,” she adds.

The effort marks Jautz’s second round of schedule-building at HLN. Last decade, during a different stint at the network, he brought Nancy Grace and Glenn Beck to broader fame by launching programs featuring them. Time Warner typically sells HLN to distributors in tandem with CNN, according to market-research firm SNL Kagan, and HLN does not generate a separate line of subscriber fees. Upgrading the programming could serve to boost ratings, and, subsequently, other kinds of revenue.

“Forensic Files” fans shouldn’t be too flummoxed by the news. Even with a roll-out of new programs, HLN is likely to air around 70 hours of the series each week – at least for the time being.

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