A broadcaster that markets itself as the voice of independents can’t follow the pack. So when Laura Michalchyshyn joined Sundance Channel as EVP of programming and marketing in January 2005 with a mandate to broaden the scope of the outlet’s programming, she began by doubling the number of original series and one-offs. And while the channel had successfully leveraged its roots in the Sundance Film Fest with a strong offering of programs about filmmaking, she promptly ventured outside that comfort zone.
The risk is already reaping rewards. The 6 x 1-hour Iconoclasts, in which famous people interview inspiring personalities, was one of the first efforts under her purview and generated substantial buzz, helping to pave the way for future series. Upcoming in ’06 is Roland Park Pictures’ The Hill, about the inner workings of the office of congressman Robert Wexler, and One Punk, Under God by World of Wonder, a six-parter on the tattooed Christian minister Jay Bakker, son of Jim Bakker and Tammy Faye Messner. Also popping up on the sked is RDF Media’s Ladette to Lady. For viewers tuning into Sundance for fare they can’t find elsewhere, such series might seem all too familiar. However, they could help to grow the 10-year-old channel, which has almost 24 million subscribers. Balancing the commercial with the cutting edge could be Michalchyshyn’s biggest challenge going forward.
The net’s DOCday programming strategy is also becoming more robust. ‘We’re now commissioning up to 10 copros, which we never did, and had three premieres at the Tribeca Film Festival,’ says Michalchyshyn. However, she’s quick to squelch persistent rumors that Sundance is launching a dedicated doc channel. Almost 30% of the channel’s output is currently dedicated to documentary, a percentage some would argue is risky enough.