A Wealth of Options

For 2007, Networks aim to build on successes

Why This Matters

Most Network-Redefining Show:

Bravo's 'Project Runway'

Yes, it's true: Runway's third season was a huge boon for Bravo, corralling an audience of 5.4 million for its finale and making it the network's most watched ever—and earning the network heaps of press coverage (consider us among the “guilty”). Now that Bravo has taken to calling itself—in network chief Lauren Zalaznick's words—the “No. 1 most upscale cable entertainment network, period,” we'll be watching to see if new shows Top Designer, Top Hair and others can help validate that exalted claim.

The New King On Cable:

Stephen Colbert

Although The Colbert Report premiered late in 2005, this year made its vaunted Word of the Day “block­busterness.” The show has averaged 1.2 million total viewers and 800,000 adults 18-49, generally retaining a whopping 85% of its Daily Show lead-in. Colbert led Comedy Central to year-to-year time-period gains of about 75%, picked up four Emmy nominations and finally cemented a long-sought solid late-night hour for the network. Colbert, crowned last week as iWantMedia.com's person of the year, has also become a cultural sensation, and his post-election meltdown was late-night comedy at its best.

…And The Court Jester:

Flavor Flav

The 90-minute second-season finale of Flavor of Love, featuring the dentally challenged rascal, clocked VH1's biggest audience ever at 7.52 million total viewers. The show also ranked among the year's highest-rated non-sports telecasts in basic cable in the 18-49 demo. It also posted a new daily record for a single show on the network's broadband site, VSPOT, with 1.1 million streams. Now VH1 will milk its “celebreality” show for two spinoffs: I Love New York will debut in January, and Charm School, featuring etiquette lessons for season one and two contestants, is set for later next year.

Networks Most Out Of Sync:

Lifetime and MTV

Lifetime is down 17% year-to-year in women 18-49, and it lacks focus. New series Cheerleader Nation, Lovespring International and Angela's Eyes failed to attract audiences. Will Grey's Anatomy reruns (due in January) and new series Army Wives and Gay, Straight or Taken turn things around? Similar questions dog MTV: The network is 8% in its target 12-34 demo this year, and its once red-hot Video Music Awards fell 28% to 5.8 million viewers (although its broadband site Overdrive posted huge traffic during the show). Another franchise, Real World Denver, was down 53% from last season's visit to Key West.

Most Notable Emmy Snub:

'Battlestar Galactica'

Emmy nominating rules changed this year in an effort to broaden the playing field. The verdict is in: The plan needs tweaking. Science fiction, long considered the Rodney Dangerfield genre of Emmy voters, has a new poster child in Battlestar, Sci Fi Channel's standout series that executives from other networks expected to see nominated in top categories. It earned three nominations: for costumes, sound, and visual effects. Cable itself did admirably—HBO got its usual bounty, and Kyra Sedgwick was nominated for TNT's The Closer—but the Battlestar snub was all too typically unfair.

In 2006, cable continued to solidify its reputation as a place for “edgier fare” and a nurturing environment for originals, an antidote to broadcast TV, where expensive laggards are quickly shuffled off to hiatus.

As the cable networks move into 2007 and look to build on breakout successes, star talent and interesting options abound, along with some hard decisions about what to greenlight.

“A couple of years ago, we had to convince people cable was a viable place to bring a series,” says Michael Wright, senior VP, original programming, for TNT/TBS. “In some ways, cable is a better place. We make an earnest effort to really support a show and give talent an environment where they want to work and play.”

Top female leads appear to be the most courted set for strong roles in the coming year. TNT is working on Grace, a pilot with Holly Hunter as an Oklahoma City detective whose sister was killed in the 1995 bombing; and Lifetime has ensemble drama Army Wives slated for March, starring Kim Delaney and Catherine Bell.

Next summer, USA will run limited series The Starter Wife, with Debra Messing, and could greenlight To Love and Die in L.A., a pilot with Shiri Appleby as a woman who discovers her father is a contract killer. And FX in January offers the new Courtney Cox gossip-mag drama Dirt; also in development is a pilot with Glenn Close as a New York litigator who mentors a younger lawyer.

“It's amazing to me, given where we were a few years ago: We can now field a group of talent that could rival any [broadcast] network in television,” says FX Network President John Landgraf. The network has also set a first-quarter premiere for The Riches, a drama starring Minnie Driver and Eddie Izzard as a married pair of con artists.

The pay-cable networks will, as usual, lead the 2007 charge into boundary-pushing fare. HBO is working on David Milch's dark surf series John From Cincinnati and Gavin Polone's adult-themed relationship drama Tell Me You Love Me.

Meanwhile, Showtime is developing Darren Starr's Manchild, addiction-focused Insatiable, and David Duchovny's producer/star effort Californication, about a women-obsessed, self-destructive writer.

With the bigger entertainment networks having tested the waters for several seasons, 2007 will bring original scripted shows from new players. In the summer, AMC will debut its first original drama series, 1960s-set advertising drama Mad Men. The channel is also set to play way against type with Breaking Bad, a pilot about a terminally ill teacher who deals meth to support his family.

As A&E debuts its pricey acquired version of The Sopranos in January, it's seeking both a limited series and an original drama for 2008. Executives are looking at several self-contained choices as companions for both Sopranos and CSI: Miami.

Says A&E Executive VP/General Manager Bob DeBitetto, “A light musical dramedy romp is not a format we're going to be doing.”

Other networks are content to keep things lighter. Bonnie Hammer, president of USA and Sci Fi Channel, says USA will be doing just that, possibly greenlighting Burn Notice, which focuses on a blacklisted Special Ops agent. Sci Fi Channel, meanwhile, will develop shows in a more “earth-based” vein.

“Nothing is dark or dysfunctional,” Hammer says. “The whole [USA] brand is looking to do interesting character-driven drama with a little twist of escapism.”

TNT, the “We Know Drama” network, is developing pilots on a heart-transplant surgeon (Heartland) and a police drama that moves in reverse time (The Line-Up).

Meanwhile, corporate sibling TBS heads a list of networks targeting the funny bone. It will pump its money into developing both scripted and unscripted comedies for prime and late night.

And Comedy Central plans a slate of at least five new primetime series: January's The Naked Trucker & T-Bones Show, February's Sarah Silverman-scripted series, and improv shows Halfway Home, American Body Shop and Lil' Bush. The network's success with The Colbert Report allows the aggressive plans.

Colbert has been nothing short of a gift to us in so many terms,” says Executive VP, Original Programming and Development, Lauren Corrao. “It's allowed us to focus our development on what we consider to be our prime, from 10 to 11 p.m.”