Summit ’13: Nets reveal plans to amp up their unscripted

Belisa Balaban, Participant's SVP of unscripted programming, told delegates during the Realscreen Summit's 'Amping up Unscripted' panel that the firm's as-yet-unnamed TV network would launch with a non-fiction slate.
January 31, 2013

The as-yet-unnamed TV network from Participant will launch entirely with unscripted programming and then transition into airing some scripted, according to Belisa Balaban, Participant’s SVP of unscripted programming, who appeared on the ‘Amping up Unscripted’ panel at the Realscreen Summit.

Balaban revealed more details about the network, which is set to launch this summer following a deal that saw Participant buying Documentary Channel and Halogen TV.

She told the assembled crowd that the network will target an 18-34 demo, with a male-female split, and all programming will feature entertainment that inspires social change, similar to the mandate of its parent company, Participant Media, the outfit behind such socially conscious docs as An Inconvenient Truth, The Cove and Food Inc.

“It will continue that storytelling but for television audiences,” she said, adding that the content will be exclusively unscripted at the outset because of the timeline for launching, but will eventually feature drama, comedy and more.

Balaban also revealed that Participant has acquired the feature doc 99% – The Occupy Wall St. Collaborative Film, which premiered earlier this month at the Sundance Film Festival, to air on the network.

Also featured on the panel was USA Network, represented by SVP of alternative programming Heather Olander, who said the NBC Universal-owned net is looking to add more non-fiction every year to its slate. Its first big push into the genre, The Moment, is to be hosted by former NFL star Kurt Warner and is making its debut in April.

Vinnie Malhotra, SVP of development and acquisitions at CNN Worldwide, stated that the content he’s looking for at CNN, as it embarks upon adding unscripted to its slate, goes “beyond the front page,” and will include sports, arts, style and business. He’s looking to air non-fiction programming on weekends, while the recently launched division, CNN Films, is looking to be a strong player in the acquisitions game, having recently picked up Blackfish at Sundance.

TBS and TNT’s SVP of unscripted development, David Eilenberg, said the two networks are looking for a blend of formats and docu-dramas that complement their existing scripted programming, citing King of the Nerds as a great companion to The Big Bang Theory.

While the majority of the execs stated that they’d need any pitches from interested non-fiction producers to come via an attorney or agent, CNN’s Malhotra said there is no set procedure for how he would take pitches. Still, each exec said they were open to working with a range of prodcos.

“While you do need to have a business framework, we don’t have a list of five production companies we work with,” said Eilenberg.

Malhotra wrapped up the panel mentioning that they’d be revealing more details about their “first foray into crime,” which is set to be executive produced by Ridley Scott, and called Crimes of the Century.


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