On the slate

When spring gets into full swing, U.S. networks strut their new stuff for the upfronts. Here's a look at what several cable nets have on the way for unscripted programming.
May 1, 2010


For 2010-2011, Animal Planet will unveil 300 hours of original programming, 100 hours of new shows and a brand new tagline and approach, ‘Surprisingly Human.’ To that end, look for the debut of Taking on Tyson, featuring heavyweight boxing legend Mike Tyson. Apparently, Mr. Tyson is something of a pigeon appreciator, and this series sees Iron Mike return to Brooklyn to raise and rear the much-maligned birds for competitive pigeon racing.

The net will also introduce viewers to Ned Bruha, aka The Skunk Whisperer, who will humanely evict a host of creepy, crawly and otherwise icky critters from a different home weekly.

On the natural history tip, Animal Planet’s TV debut of The Cove will be followed by Dolphin Warriors (w/t), which will follow Cove activist Ric O’Barry and his son Lincoln as they continue to fight for the rights and safety of dolphins in Taiji, Japan and around the world. Underwater cameraman Didier Noiret and a fellow explorer will take viewers Into the Dragon’s Lair, a special that follows the 19-foot Nile crocodile into its den to film never-before-seen behavior. For those who prefer domestic animals, Al Roker Entertainment will be producing Last Chance Highway, a series about two animal lovers that have developed an ‘underground railroad’ to shepherd dogs about to be euthanized to new homes. And cat lovers should cozy up to Must Love Cats, an exploration of the people, places and things of the feline experience hosted by musician John Fulton.


A&E, currently positioned as the fourth largest entertainment cable network among adults in the 18-49 demo, is launching eight new unscripted series in 2010, with 12 non-fiction shows returning to the sked.

The new series include I’m Heavy (w/t, 10 x 60 minutes), which the net says will provide an ‘intimate look’ at patients struggling to overcome weight problems through a six-month program. The series, which will feature two individuals per episode, will be shot in two different treatment facilities: Tijuana Entertainment will produce the South Carolina portion while Megalomedia will handle the Texas portion.

A&E’s massive hit Intervention has spawned a spin-off, in the form of Intervention in Depth: One Man Rehab. The 5 x 60-minute series will follow a team of ‘sober companions’ as they aid high-risk addicts in the daily struggle to resist falling back into addiction. Like the original, the new series is produced by GRB Productions.

Celebreality projects on the way include an untitled David Hasselhoff project produced by FremantleMedia North America; Strange Days with Bob Saget from Tijuana Entertainment; Growing Up Twisted (w/t), produced by Evolution Media and starring Twisted Sister frontman Dee Snider and Tony Danza: Teach, produced by Boutique TV. The Hasselhoff and Snider shows offer glimpses into each man’s family life, while the Saget series sees the Full House funnyman hitting the road to explore American subcultures and unique lifestyles. Danza’s series sees the actor taking on what could be his toughest role yet – that of English teacher for a class of sophomore students at Philadelphia’s Northeast High School.

Two crime-oriented unscripted series make the slate this year, with The Squad: Prison Police (Wild Eyes Productions, 10 x 30 minutes) documenting the action inside the Tennessee prison system via the investigations of a team of special agents. Ice-T serves as exec producer for The Peacemaker, produced for A&E by OOG Productions. The 5 x 30-minute series follows violence prevention counselor Malik Spellman as he mediates truces between rival L.A. gangs.


Coming off of the airing of the ambitious 11-part natural history series Life, Discovery Channel is bringing even more event television to its viewers in 2010-2011, including Curiosity: The Questions of Life. Personally overseen by Discovery founder John Hendricks, this 60-episode series will span five years and premiere on Discovery Channel with companion content on Science Channel, HD Theater, Planet Green and Discovery Communications’ international networks. Each episode will be geared towards answering ‘an enduring question about science, civilization, technology and the human experience.’

Another Discovery Channel event series is Human Planet, which will examine the relationship between humanity and its home planet. Each HD episode will be set in a different environment: arctic, rivers, mountains, oceans, jungles, grasslands, desert and urban.

Other specials include Earth from Space which sees Discovery team with NASA to use satellite technology in its depiction of Earth as a living organism. Reign of the Dinosaurs unites Disney and Pixar for what Discovery’s billing as ‘a daring and provocative new chapter in television.’ Steven Spielberg will serve as EP on The Rising: Rebuilding Ground Zero, and of course, ‘Shark Week’ will return.

New series include Worst Case Scenario featuring Man vs. Wild‘s Bear Grylls and produced by Pilgrim Films & Television for Discovery Channel and Construction Intervention, featuring ‘construction guru’ Charlie Frattini and crew fixing construction mishaps.


Calling itself ‘the network by food people, for food people,’ Scripps Networks Interactive’s Cooking Channel launched May 31 with a line-up of new original programming and series coming to the U.S. for the first time.

An edgier cousin of The Food Network, the new cable channel aims to unite the cutting edge with the cutting board through series such as Unique Eats, which shines the spotlight on America’s more left-of-center food haunts, ranging from high-end food emporiums to roving eateries. Daryl Robinson, a bartender at New York City’s Hudson Hotel who has earned the nickname ‘Dr. Mixologist,’ will present the series Drink Up!, which will examine the exotic histories behind what we imbibe. Mo Rocca of CBS Sunday Morning and The Daily Show fame, hosts Foodography, an irreverent look at global food culture, while the Canadian-produced Food Jammers documents the adventures of three hip foodies who design culinary contraptions. Food fan favorites such as Bobby Flay, Racheal Ray and Emeril Lagasse will also be hosting new series for the channel (we’re particularly excited about Bobby Flay’s brunch-centric series).

Among the daytime offerings on the new channel is Cook Like an Iron Chef, featuring Iron Chef Michael Symon, which promises to reveal to viewers some of the techniques that can lead to Iron Chef-hood. Also look for two programs focused on Indian cuisine, Spice Goddess with Bal Arneson and Indian Food Made Easy with Anjum Anand. Look for musician/chef Levi Roots to host Caribbean Food Made Easy. And for those who prefer food shows from back in the day, there’s a classic cooking block featuring such legendary TV chefs as Julia Child and Graham Kerr, better known as ‘The Galloping Gourmet.’


Unscripted fare that’s making its way to History includes two new series each from Original Productions and Pilgrim Films & Television. Original Productions’ new efforts include Around the World in 80 Ways (w/t), in which two rivals will have to travel the world using 80 unique modes of transportation throughout the race, and Vigilante Inspector, featuring two engineers examining rapidly decaying infrastructures in the U.S., from bridges to highways to ‘pesky potholes.’

Pilgrim Films & Television is bringing the previously announced Top Shot to the net, a 10-episode series premiering June 6 which pits America’s top marksmen against each other in historically-based competitions. Also from Pilgrim: Only in America with Larry the Cable Guy, in which the actor/comedian travels across the U.S. and frames his experiences and the places he visits under a decidedly irreverent lens.

Other new series on the slate include the U.S. version of UK hit Top Gear, produced by History and BBC Worldwide and premiering in the fall of 2010. Comic book legend Stan Lee, creator of such venerable titles as Spider-Man and X-Men, joins History via Stan Lee’s Superhumans. Produced for History by Off the Fence and hosted by Lee and Daniel Browning Smith, aka ‘the world’s most flexible man,’ the series will travel the world in search of real ‘X-People’ – humans with ‘powers’ that stem from genetic anomalies.

Go Go Luckey and Berman/Braun bring 10 episodes of Brad Meltzer’s Decoded to the mix, in which the best-selling author uncovers hidden meanings and codes behind everyday sights. Chasing Mummies, produced for History by Boutique TV, chronicles the efforts of legendary archeologist Dr. Zahi Hawass as he and his team uncover new treasures in 250 digs throughout Egypt. Swamp People, produced for History by Original Media, follows Cajun ‘swampers’ in Louisiana during the 30-day alligator hunting season.

Greenlit specials include History of the World in Two Hours (w/t), produced by Flight 33 Productions; two presidential specials: Jefferson, produced by Left/Right and Reagan from Boom Pictures; President’s Book of Secrets from Prometheus Entertainment; Who Really Discovered America? from Committee Films and Voices from Inside the Towers, produced by Darlow Smithson Productions, which examines the stories behind some of the phone calls from those trapped within the Twin Towers on Sept. 11, 2001.


Spike TV’s new non-fiction pilots will bring radical weaponry, alternative histories and advice for the aspiring bar-owner to its guy-centric audience.

‘Our new slate of non-scripted pilots speaks to our audience’s thirst for knowledge in topics relevant to them, provided in an exciting way,’ says Sharon Levy, EVP, original series and animation.

The non-scripted fare in development includes Weapon X, produced by Original Productions, which brings Future Weapons host Richard Machowicz on board to reframe some of the biggest battles in history, dropping potentially game-changing secret weapons into the mix.

3 Ball Productions brings colorful bar/restaurant consultant John Taffer to a new establishment each week to whip it into shape in On The Rocks. Using his ‘Taffer Dynamics’ methodology, Taffer will attempt to pull flailing watering holes out of the deep end.

Alternative History, from Flight 33 Productions, will provide a new ‘what if’ scenario for several of history’s key events, using bleeding-edge animation.

Atlas Media Corp. in association with Elvis Duran Group will present Phowned!, which unleashes the talents of some of America’s top prank phone callers from the nationally-syndicated radio hit The Elvis Duran Morning Show upon the nation. Half Yard Productions offers Haunted Civilizations, which will examine several of history’s spookiest locations to unearth untold secrets.


TLC posted double-digit growth in 2009 over 2008 and its highest ratings in five years. One ingredient in that recipe for success, Jon & Kate Plus 8‘s Kate Gosselin, will be returning to the female-skewing network in Q3 2010 with her new show Twist of Kate. And for those who want to keep up with the Gosselin brood, limited Kate Plus 8 series are also on the slate for 2010-2011.

The other TLC series that has tongues already wagging is Sarah Palin’s Alaska, due to air in Q4. TLC bills the series as ‘a documentary series about our country’s most majestic and remote state…seen through the eyes of its most famous resident.’

American Chopper: Senior vs. Junior brings the AC clan back in Q3. Other new family biz series include Auctioneer$ (w/t) and Homemade Millionaire (w/t). Foodies, look for a Cake Boss spin-off, Cake Boss College, as well as Inedible to Incredible (w/t), Food Buddha, Cupcake Sisters (w/t, pictured) and Mega Bites. Wedding-wise, look for Battle of the Wedding Designers (w/t); Down the Aisle in Style (w/t); Say Yes to the Dress: Atlanta and Say Yes to the Dress: Big Bliss. And big families get airtime via Quintuplet Surprise and The Carpio Family Project.

WE tv

Rainbow Media’s WE tv has announced its 2010-2011 slate, and with it, a new programming slant geared towards providing its female-skewing audience with a wider range of stories.

Among its non-fiction offerings in production are Girl Meets Gown, a 6 x 60-minute reality series featuring the exploits of the proprietors of two Texas bridal boutiques, produced by WE tv and AMS Pictures.

Also, Authentic Entertainment and WE tv are pairing up style-challenged mothers and daughters to make each other over in You’re Wearing That?!? (9 x 30 minutes). Speaking of mother and daughter teams, Melissa and Joan Rivers star in Mother Knows Best? (8 x 60 minutes), premiering in the fourth quarter of this year.

Also premiering in Q4 2010 is 8 x 60-minute series Downsized, featuring the nine-member Bruce family and produced by WE tv and Pie Town Productions. The series will follow how the family deals with the challenges of the recession. Other family-oriented programming includes WE tv and ISH Entertainment’s Fix My Family (8 x 60 minutes), featuring psychiatrist Tara Fields, who will move in with a different feuding family each week to whip it into shape.

About The Author
Managing editor with realscreen publication, an international print and online magazine that covers the non-fiction film and television industries. Darah is an award-winning journalist who has spent over two decades covering a wide range of issues from real estate and urban development to immigration, politics and human rights, primarily with The Vancouver Sun. Prior to joining realscreen, she was editor of Stream Daily, realscreen's sister publication covering the dynamic global digital video industry. She also served a stint as a war reporter in Afghanistan for television and print, and was a national business blogger with Yahoo Canada.