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Sky Rebrands U.S. Drama Channel, Lands MGM’s ‘Harry Quebert’

Sky Witness will be the new name for the pay-TV giant’s U.S. drama channel from August. Currently known as Sky Living, the name change is designed to signpost the pay-TV channel as a drama, rather than a lifestyle, offering. The rechristened net will launch with shows including “The Truth About the Harry Quebert Affair” (pictured) and ABC legal drama “For the People.”

Sky Living concentrates on big-ticket network procedurals, while serialized U.S. cable fare plays on Sky Atlantic. The programming on Sky Witness will be broadly the same as before the name change, but there will be more money for acquisitions and marketing, Sky’s director of programs Zai Bennett told Variety.

“It’s about the branding, the name and the tone in which you talk about it,” Bennett said of the rebrand. “All the favorites are coming back, but there will be more of them. We might widen our appeal a little bit. ‘The Truth About the Harry Quebert Affair’ is a serial drama, not an episodic procedural, and we’ll allow some of them in there. We will give ourselves that latitude.”

“Harry Quebert” lands at Sky as part of a wider programming deal between the 21st Century Fox-backed company and MGM. That deal also gives Sky series including “Get Shorty” and SVOD rights to “The Handmaids’s Tale.”

Sky is one of the big buyers of U.S. drama in Britain alongside UKTV and, in free-TV, Viacom’s Channel 5. Sky Witness will be the home of U.S. network series including “The Good Doctor,” “Madame Secretary,” and “Grey’s Anatomy.”

“The Good Doctor” has been the highest-rated show on Sky Living over the past year, with an average audience of 1.1 million, including repeat showings. “Grey’s Anatomy” and “Chicago Fire” are also solid performers for the soon-to-be-renamed channel.

MGM-distributed “The Truth About the Harry Quebert Affair,” is a new acquisition. Starring Patrick Dempsey (“Bridget Jones’ Baby”) and based on the Joël Dicker bestseller, it will play on Epix in the U.S. It launched internationally at the Canneseries event in April and has also been acquired by TF1 in France.

Sky had already bought Angela Bassett cop procedural “9-1-1,”  which will be part of the new channel’s launch schedule. Also on the grid will be CBS’s “Instinct,” which stars Alan Cumming as a former CIA operative who is lured back to his old life when the NYPD needs his help to stop a serial killer.

Bennett said there would be a major marketing campaign for the launch of Sky Witness in August, centered on “Instinct,” with Cumming a familiar face to British viewers. The marketing effort will ramp up again in the fall as new seasons of the U.S. shows return.

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