Coming soon to your living room… everything from extreme fishermen to battling bartenders. Here’s a look at what some U.S. cable nets have up their sleeves for the months ahead.
Having kicked off 2009 with the best quarter in its history, A&E is ramping up the original content for its 2009/2010 slate. Non-fiction programming on tap includes seven new factual series, three specials and three new unscripted series in development. Just as new show Obsessed (a series dealing with people suffering from Obsessive Compulsive Disorder) is proving to be a strong companion for Intervention, several of the other new titles are expected to fit nicely with current hits.
‘We’ve got an amazing pilot in the works with Shaquille O’Neal and his family that would make a great companion to Gene Simmons’ Family Jewels,’ says Rob Sharenow, A&E’s SVP of non-fiction and alternative programming. ‘We’re also working [on] a new series, Paranormal Cops [produced by North South Productions for A&E] that should appeal to the audience of Paranormal State.’
The one-two punch of Intervention and Obsessed makes Monday nights akin to ‘malaise night’ on A&E. ‘Critical to the success of each show is the universality of these problems and the road maps they offer to recovery,’ says Sharenow.
Audiences still seem to crave celebreality, and A&E has new offerings in that department. Having paired MC Hammer and family in Hammertime with the established Family Jewels, other celeb-centered shows on the way include an as-yet-untitled Tony Danza project, following the ex-Taxi and Who’s the Boss? star as he becomes a teacher in a city school. Sharenow says a new pilot featuring family-friendly funnyman Bob Saget will be ‘completely different from anything he’s ever done or we’ve ever done.’ We’ve seen The Aristocrats, so we’re curious.
Also worth looking for is the new docu-drama Fugitive Chronicles which will recount different fugitive captures over nine episodes. Also, according to an A&E spokesperson, a Jackson family special, announced before Michael Jackson’s death and slated to follow Jackie, Tito, Jermaine, Marlon and Randy Jackson as they prepare for a reunion album and tour is still ‘currently in production.’ Barry Walsh
‘I think we’re so busy changing the channel all the time,’ laughs Marjorie Kaplan, president/GM of Animal Planet. ‘We made a very dramatic shift over a year ago and now it’s about building on it.’
Part of that strategy includes taking Animal Planet’s breakout success stories, such as River Monsters (the highest rated show in the channel’s history by its second episode this year), Lost Tapes, Whale Wars and Dogs 101 and using them to build out new programs in similar veins.
In October, Dogs 101 will serve as a stepping stone to the new pet series SuperFetch. The new series features YouTube sensation Zak George teaching dogs how to do insane (and sometimes useful) tricks for their owners such as finding the remote control, taking keys out of a woman’s purse when she just had a manicure and riding a bike. ‘It’s animal training meets a Judd Apatow film,’ says Kaplan.
In keeping with Lost Tapes and River Monsters the channel is building on the theme of scary animals and monsters with the series The Haunted which premieres in November, and a special on werewolves. Playing on the myth that animals can sense ghosts and the paranormal, The Haunted uses first hand accounts with pet owners, paranormal pros and evidence from hauntings to explore the relationship between animals and the afterlife.
Also in Q4, look for Why I’m Alive(w/t) featuring people who’ve had near death experiences with animals, The Herd which follows 1,200 elephants at the foot of Mt. Kilimanjaro and new eps of Jockeys; Weird, True & Freaky and Lost Tapes. Lindsay Gibb
Bravo is another cabler that came off of a record-setting 2008 with an equally impressive Q1 for 2009. Thus, as it heads into 2010, expansion is in order, and the net is not only entering the scripted domain with Blueprint and 30 Under 30 but is also upping its original programming hours for 2009/2010 by double digits.
‘We’ve just been continuing to build on the success and the growth we’ve had over the last few years,’ says Andy Cohen, Bravo’s SVP of original programming and development. While citing the return of Bravo staples such as The Rachel Zoe Project, Flipping Out, Real Housewives of Atlanta and Top Chef, he also points to newly launched shows such as NYC Prep, The Fashion Show and spin-off Top Chef Masters as ‘the next big Bravo hits.’
Cohen himself is hosting Watch What Happens: Live, an interactive show featuring Cohen and a host of ‘Bravo-lebrities’ on Thursdays at midnight. Among other new series on the way are two more Magical Elves productions: Kell on Earth (w/t) starring PR maven Kelly Cutrone, and American Artist, exec produced by Sarah Jessica Parker and planned for 2010.
As for the one that got away (and migrated to Lifetime), Project Runway, Cohen says, ‘We’re still on a trajectory that’s quite successful with or without it.’ And the return of another hot Bravo property further illustrates that not all of the drama is onscreen – with the announcement in early July that Real Housewives of New York would return for a third season in 2010 came much speculation about which of last season’s stars had yet to re-sign on the dotted line. The official announcement that casting was underway for ‘additional housewives’ added fuel to the fire. Barry Walsh
‘Fall is a tough time for male-oriented cable networks like ours,’ admits John Ford, president and GM of Discovery Channel. During the fall the channel is up against college and pro football, making it harder for a channel with a 60-40 male skew to battle for attention. ‘We have to be really creative and really strong on the nights when football is not airing to do well.’
Thus, one part of the strategy is to air hits such as Dirty Jobs and MythBusters and their accompanying programs on football-free Tuesday and Wednesday nights.
Discovery also has a slate of new programs for Q4 to lure over viewers. Making its debut in September is Man vs. Fish, which follows the exploits of ‘extreme fisherman’ Matt Watson, who enjoys doing things such as jumping out of a helicopter onto the back of a marlin. ‘He’s another ‘brawny men of Discovery’ type that we’re hoping will really take off in the vein of the captains from Deadliest Catch and Bear Grylls from Man vs. Wild,’ says Ford. Also debuting in the fall will be a series called Raging Planet that uses high definition photography and CGI to depict intense weather phenomena such as tornados, lightning and volcanoes.
Capping off Discovery’s Q4 is Dino December, a series of programs and specials about dinosaurs that will run throughout the month. ‘It’s a way for Discovery to reclaim that position as the premier producer of dinosaur programming,’ says Ford.
The fall season will see around 115 premiere hours (comparable to last fall), more variety in the schedule and a lot more CGI. ‘CGI is a great tool for Discovery because we like to take you places you can’t go and you can’t see,’ says Ford. ‘When that’s the challenge, we can use computer graphics to create a world you otherwise can’t experience.’ Lindsay Gibb
Sometimes you just shouldn’t mess with a good thing. DIY is, and will always be about home improvement. While increased audience numbers may speak to an effect from the current economic crisis, with many homeowners sprucing up homes themselves, Andy Singer, VP of original programming at the network, says that the economy hasn’t really been a factor for them. ‘We feel like we’re always perfectly situated no matter what’s going on with the economy,’ he says. ‘We believe we empower viewers to be able to tackle any kind of problem and even if they can’t do it themselves, they have a base knowledge so when they’re talking to a contractor or a tradesperson, they’ve got some good information at hand.’
That being said, certain shows like Bathtastic, Sweat Equity, Kitchen Impossible and new show Ten Grand In Your Hand are perfect for viewers in the midst of a recession, but Singer points out that they were all envisioned before the economic tailspin.
Fall premieres will include House Crashers, a spin-off of hit show Yard Crashers, in which new host/expert Josh Temple gives an ambush makeover. Also look for Disaster House, in which a house is destroyed over 13 episodes with experiments like roller derby girls smashing into walls and seismologist-monitored special machines recreating an earthquake, all to illustrate what kind of repairs viewers can make themselves and the ones to bring an expert in for; a Major League Baseball Network partnership on a Man Caves contest special and Cool Tools month in November, with three specials and new episodes of the series. Kelly Anderson
Fine Living Network
Fine Living’s in-house tagline – ‘It’s entertainment you can use’ – effectively sums up the network’s mandate. Formerly a network that served the interests of ‘your rich uncle,’ in the words of director of programming Mark Freeman, Fine Living has evolved from the rich uncle’s network to one focusing on how to spend time and money, and now has moved on to become a lifestyle/general entertainment television hub.
FLN is also venturing into a new realm, cocktail culture, and the network hopes to claim ownership of the untapped niche. Freeman hopes to kick off the cocktail hour with new series Bartender Wars, a series that, as the title suggests, follows bartenders competing against one another. The net also picked up the one-off Great American Beer Festival from sister Food Network, which falls in line with the new cocktail culture programming.
Besides beer and mixed drinks, the focus will also extend to relationships beyond the ones people have with alcohol, with returning acquisitions Wedding SOS, Bulging Brides and Newlywed, Nearly Dead. Fine Living will also repurpose NBC’s Biggest Loser, and aims to air it on the weekend, after its network premiere.
Primarily picking up acquisitions in primetime has served Fine Living Network well, but Freeman says that they’d like to transition more into original programming in the future, to complement the acquired roster. ‘If we find good programming, whether it’s been developed in-house or it’s been pitched to us by a distribution company and we like it, we’re going to grab it.’ Kelly Anderson
The Food Network’s ongoing quest to present the best talent will bring two premieres to the fall schedule: in one, an Animal Planet star ventures into the realm of cuisine, while in another, the search is on for a new Iron Chef star.
Jeff Corwin will become the newest Food Network personality with his show Extreme Cuisine with Jeff Corwin. Allison Page, the VP of programming at Food Network, says that the network has been in conversation with Corwin for years now, trying to find the perfect vehicle for the animal expert. ‘In addition to his passion for the outdoors, he is very passionate about food,’ says Page. His show will be a culinary travelog through locales such as Thailand, Mexico, Greece, Peru, Morocco and the United States.
Season two of The Next Iron Chef will also air in the fall. Page considers it a tent pole series for the network, along with The Next Food Network Star. ‘I think our strength is really about the balance between tent pole stunts and very highly rated ongoing series,’ states Page, ‘A lot of our success right now is built on how deep and rich the strength of our programming is.’
The economy hasn’t really affected programming at the food lovers’ network. ‘When the economic downturn came we were already addressing viewers’ needs,’ says Page. ‘We have had solution-based cooking on for years. 30 Minute Meals, Cooking for Real and Semi-Homemade Cooking with Sandra Lee have always [been about] providing delicious and affordable ideas in the kitchen.’ Further on the frugal gourmet tip, Food Network has also introduced Sandra’s Money Saving Meals, which, according to Page, is ‘unsurprisingly, doing very well.’ Kelly Anderson
Planet Green has just passed its first birthday and it’s already on the move. The channel emerged with an eco-lifestyle mandate in June 2008 from its former identity as Discovery Home, and is currently in the midst of becoming what GM Laura Michalchyshyn calls ‘Planet Green 2.0.’
‘What we’ve become now in terms of our new focus is less of the ‘how to’ and more about motivated, immersive reality/non-fiction television,’ says Michalchyshyn. ‘By the time we hit fall Q4 and into January 2010 it’s almost when you’ll see the full transformation of the channel, by the beginning of next year.’
Some of the changes we can expect in the fall include the addition of a new documentary block, ‘Real Impact.’ The two-hour weekly block, reflecting a global perspective on greening, launches September 12 with Jeremy Simmons’ The Last Beekeeper and will feature docs such as No Impact Man, An Inconvenient Truth, Who Killed the Electric Car? and The 11th Hour. Michalchyshyn is planning to show 20 films in this block by the end of 2009.
”Real Impact’ came about as a strategy for how we could bring more personal narratives and stories to this network,’ says Michalchyshyn, who came to Planet Green in March from Sundance Channel. The block will consist mostly of acquired docs and specials, but in rare cases they will consider giving top-up financing to docs that really resonate with the channel.
Other programs to watch for in Q4 include the premiere of Acid Test, a half-hour doc about the state of the world’s oceans hosted by Sigourney Weaver, as well as Ultimate Power Builders, The 100 Mile Challenge, Planet Mechanics and new episodes of Emeril Green. Lindsay Gibb
At this year’s upfronts, Science Channel announced it was making its largest investment in original programming in the network’s history. Deborah Myers, GM of Science Channel and EVP programming Discovery Emerging Networks says the increase during hard economic times is meant to help further the future of science, and Science.
‘What you’re going to see on the channel is a lot more optimistic, a lot more inventive and it’s a lot more entertainment,’ says Myers. ‘After all, people come to TV with an expectation to be entertained and then they want to learn.’
A big part of the change for the network involves investing in more personalities for the channel. Myers says viewers can expect to see more ‘rock stars of the science world’ as well as ‘rock stars of pop culture’ with an interest in science that will host and lead shows for the channel. For instance, Whoopi Goldberg and her production company Whoop Inc. will be producing the first game show for the channel. Head Games (w/t) is a clip-based game show that asks contestants to answer science riddles and uses videos to showcase surprising science facts. Myers is hoping this will become a water cooler show for the network.The channel will also be delivering a program with Morgan Freeman and announcing programs featuring other stars in 2010.
Other key programs to look for in Q4 include Popular Science: The Future of… hosted by Onion web editor Baratunde Thurston, Punkin Chunkin, and Physics of the Impossible. Lindsay Gibb