Tour de Force
Cable networks pitch programming to critics
By Allison Romano -- Broadcasting & Cable, 7/25/2004 8:00:00 PM
Cable networks know the value of free press. They can't match the marketing muscle of the broadcast networks, which made last week's semiannual Television Critics Association tour in Los Angeles all the more important. From MTV to CSTV, networks put their programming wares on display, hoping to build some buzz. And, of course, there was a little news, too.
Here's a look at what's happening in the cable world.
Logo is on a roll.
MTV Networks' upstart gay network, Logo, is partnering with Alan Cummings, Cher and Chastity Bono, and Real World producers Bunim-Murray for its inaugural programming slate.
Cummings will host the cabaret show The Alan Cummings Experience; Cher and Bono will executive-produce Family Outing, which documents celebrities' coming-out stories. Fantastic Voyage, from Bunim Murray, is a reality show set aboard a seven-day gay Caribbean cruise. Also in development: gay-wedding reality show My Fabulous Gay Wedding and Chelsea Boys, an animated series based on a comic strip about gay life in New York City.
MTV and VH1 entertainment whiz Brian Graden is directing programming for the new channel, which plans to launch Feb. 17, 2005.
Along with original series, Logo is amassing a gay-themed film library that includes The Birdcage, Philadelphia, Kissing Jessica Stein and My Own Private Idaho. The network will also buy smaller made-for-TV movies and documentaries.
Other Viacom and MTV Networks channels are pitching in, too. CBS News and MTV News will assist on a newsmagazine. A TV Land special will highlight gay influence on television. And VH1 is creating The Big Gay 100, the top people, places and things in gay culture.
Plus, Logo is in development talks with big-name creators, such as comic Sandra Bernhard and The Reagans producers Craig Zadan and Neil Meron.
Conversely, Sci Fi Channel had more to offer in the mea culpa department.
A contrite Sci Fi President Bonnie Hammer apologized for a botched marketing ploy tied to an "unauthorized documentary" about horror-film director M. Night Shyamalan.
The director supposedly tried to stop the documentary when it got too personal. But the sham show was part of a campaign to plug Shyamalan's new movie, The Village. The rift was imaginary. The tactics "just went too far," says Hammer, who also heads USA Network. "We would never intentionally try to deceive the audience." Her boss, NBC Cable czar Jeff Gaspin, agreed, saying the publicity and the documentary "were not paralleled enough to tell what was true."
HBO is also debating reality.
It's trying to decide whether mob drama The Sopranos is too real for syndication. Chairman Chris Albrecht is still undecided about selling it: "Our only decision is not to do anything yet." The Sopranos should return for season six in 2006, and he says there might be as many as 13 episodes, rather than the 10 previously announced.
Showtime, however, is ready to gamble.
The network is giving original series Huff a second season, even though the show hasn't premiered. Huff, starring Hank Azaria as a therapist struggling with his own problems, debuts Nov. 7.
Showtime hailed the early renewal as "unprecedented." TV critics, however, pointed out that Showtime's nemesis, HBO, gave Six Feet Under a similar early renewal a few years ago. In a related vein, HBO opted to renew Hollywood comedy Entourage for a second season—after one episode.
TLC is busy injecting new life into the Trading Spaces franchise, which slipped from its sky-high ratings a year ago.
The new season, the show's fifth, will feature new designers, fresh challenges and visits to new towns. In a twist, the designers and homeowners won't know beforehand which room they'll be remodeling.
Trading Spaces designer Genevieve Gorder is also getting her own show. Town Haul, slated to debut in early 2005, will rally small-town residents to remake public spaces, such as a teen center or a church basement. Another Trading Spaces alum, Doug Wilson, will host Moving Up, which follows home buyers and sellers as they endure the adventures of moving, then revisit their old homes. He'll also star in a TLC special: America's Ugliest—the ugliest bathroom or worst kitchen, that is.
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