CMT Buys Into New Plan With Unscripted, Comedy Pickups

Tattoo competition series, Bike Week stunt, 'Raising Hope' part of new slate

CMT has been on a buying spree of late,
launching the reboot Cops Reloaded in
March, greenlighting unscripted Orange
County Chopper
with Paul Teutul Sr. last month
and acquiring Hell’s Kitchen (which debuted May
27) and Fox’s Raising Hope (for fall 2014).

This week the network will add another show
to that list, announcing the pickup of new competition
series Tattoo Titans, where four different
tattoo artists compete each week for a cash prize.
CMT will pair the show with Choppers in November.
While the reality space is crowded with tattoo
shows (Oxygen’s Best Ink, Spike’s Ink Master
and Tattoo Nightmares), Katie Buchanan, CMT
senior VP of programming strategy, says Titans
will have CMT’s own unique take, including that
each episode will be self-contained. “A goal in our
programming strategy is to get more of these repeatable
format shows on the air because that’s extending
the equity of the shows for us,” she says.

The network has seen that with new series Dog
and Beth: On the Hunt
, whose repeats are tracking
42% higher than other CMT originals. In May,
CMT ordered 11 more episodes of the series to
minimize downtime between its July 14 finale
and when new episodes premiere in mid-August.

Dog and the acquisitions have helped CMT’s
ratings rebound; through eight weeks of the
second quarter, viewers 18-49 were up 47%
from the same period a year ago. The network
hopes to continue that momentum this week
with the CMT Music Awards and the season premiere
of Redneck Island on June 5; new series
Hillbillies for Hire is set to launch in July.

Hillbillies will air on Sundays like Dog, the
latter marking the first time CMT launched
an original on the highly competitive night.
And though CMT is pleased with the results,
it will move the second batch of Dog episodes
to midweek to avoid NFL football on Sundays,
Mondays and Thursdays in the fall.

“The cool thing about the back 11 is it’s a
chance to launch another night for us,” Buchanan
says. “The über goal by 2016 is to get to at least
four nights of originals.”

Bring On the Bikes

In addition to Chopper, CMT is doubling
down on the motorcycle genre with a Bike
Week programming stunt airing Aug. 18-24
from the Sturgis Motorcycle Rally in Sturgis,
S.D. The network will air seven nights of programming
from the rally through the week,
including an hour on an attempt to break the
Guinness World Record for driving through a
tunnel of fire, an hour on the various competitions
at the festival (bike build-off, homemade
bikini contest) and culminating with a concert.

Other programming that week will also be
bike-themed including the half-hour special
Doomsday Garage, about people who build
and pimp out doomsday-prepper rides (which
could be a back-door pilot); and a bike-themed finale of Hillbillies. Bike Week could become an
annual event on the schedule.

“If it’s something that works, it’s very sponsorable.
Ad sales really likes these kind of key tentpoles,
and it takes us into the same direction that
some of our originals are going,” Buchanan says.

Taking Another Comedy Swing

Raising Hope will debut on CMT in September
2014, with the network sharing off-net cable
rights with WGN America and FXX. CMT
saw Hope’s unique family characters and physical
comedy as on-brand for its audience and
was looking for a companion for Reba, which
launched last September and has helped drive
viewers from fringe into primetime.

CMT experimented with original scripted
comedy in 2010 with the Melissa Peterman
sitcom Working Class, which was canceled after
one season. The network has its first animated
series, Bounty Hunters, from executive producers
Jeff Foxworthy, Bill Engvall and Larry the Cable
Guy, premiering this July. But with Hope joining
the fold, Buchanan says she would “absolutely”
consider launching another original sitcom.

“It further helps us to establish a key comedy
strip, and knowing that that has worked and
if it continues to work we would definitely be
open to looking at scripted originals that could
also go down that road,” she says.

With all the new premiere hours, CMT has
been staffing up (Buchanan joined the network
in January) and has hired Turner’s Hector
Campos as VP of programming, a new position
designed to be a hybrid executive for acquisitions
and strategies. Campos starts June 3.

With Campos on board and Cops continuing
to grow, expect CMT’s acquisition spree to continue.
“We’re going to continue to keep buying
as long as we can stay within our budget,”
Buchanan says.

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