Cable Is Keeping It Real

Samurai fisherman and SportsCenter wannabes

From VH1 to A&E, reality is still booming across cable. When TV writers gather in Hollywood this week for the twice-yearly Television Critics Association tour for a glimpse at cable's latest slate of original programs, they'll see an avalanche of upcoming nonscripted fare.

There's Surviving Nugent
from VH1, where aging rocker Ted Nugent and his family challenge a group of city folk to survive in rural Texas. A&E will preview its take on a family of undertakers with Dying to Meet You, a reality show set inside the Poway Bernado Mortuary. Even first-time Press Tour presenter Outdoor Life Network is getting into reality with Samurai Sportsman, which features a real-life samurai trying to master Western outdoor sports like bass fishing.

Reality programming plays to cable's ability to provide fresh and ever-changing options to viewers, said MTV Networks research chief Betsy Frank. "Reality tends to be very of the moment, there are a limited number of episodes, and it is generally something new."

Cable won't offer too many new scripted shows this spring. USA Network will unveil its latest series Touching Evil, about a San Francisco detective who discovers new powers after a near-death experience. HBO's highly anticipated new Western Deadwood,
executive produced by NYPD Blue
and Hill Street Blues
vet David Milch, also will be on display. Both shows debut in March.

Typically, cable networks have waited until summertime, when broadcast networks are airing reality shows and repeats, to unwrap their costly scripted dramas. Still, said USA Network's head of original programming Jeff Wachtel, March can be an excellent time to snare viewers between broadcast's February and May sweeps periods.

"You can get a little traction before you face the networks' big stuff again," Wachtel said. USA is bringing its proven drama, quirky detective show Monk, back with new episodes this month.

FX will test the March waters with the launch of the new season of its hit cop drama The Shield, but the network is sitting out new scripted shows for now. Instead, FX will venture into reality, where it hasn't found as much success as with scripted. The net's Todd TV, set to debut this month, allows viewers to vote on life decisions for the show's 30-year-old star Todd Santos.

For its latest non-scripted offering, TLC is turning the tables on corporate executives. Now Who's Boss
will toss bosses, like John Selvaggio, president of Delta's low-priced subsidiary Song Airlines, and California Pizza Kitchen co-CEOs Larry Flax and Rick Rosenfeld, back to entry-level jobs.

Cable has found success with makeover and lifestyle reality shows like Queer Eye for the Straight Guy
and Trading Spaces.
But that's not stopping some channels from borrowing broadcast formats. After sifting through nearly a thousand candidates, ESPN in February kicks off Dream Job, an American Idol-style search for a new SportsCenter
anchor. The sports net said it had Dream Job
in development before American Idol
debuted on Fox, but held back so it wouldn't seem too much of a copycat.

Sci Fi Channel will put a bizarre twist on group living shows popularized by CBS's Big Brother
with its new show Mad, Mad House, which arrives in March. On Mad, Mad House, ten people will move into a house filled with five people who have alternative lifestyles, like a voodoo priest, a Wiccan and a naturist. The survivor wins a six-figure prize.