Cable Programming Roundup: New Shows, New Networks

Reality draws more celebs, Comcast targets kids and ABC Family gets dramatic

In its long battle with broadcast networks, cable television recently won a few more skirmishes. It beat the seven broadcast networks in household share, according to Nielsen Media Research, for the third consecutive first quarter: 51.9 vs. 45.8. This follows a first-ever win over broadcast in prime during February sweeps. To get a sense of what cable will be throwing next into the programming fight, B&C monitored the buzz from the upfronts so far and the NCTA show. Here are highlights and trends:

Viva Español: Discovery is launching two digital networks: Discovery Kids en Español and Discovery Travel & Living (Viajar y Vivir) on June 17. Each will target Spanish-speaking viewers with a mix of original and acquired programming rather than secondary audio feeds of other Discovery shows. Having inked deals with Comcast, Cox, Charter and Insight, among others, TheHistory Channel en Español premieres Paranormal Mundial, its first original, monthly Latin-American-themed series, this month.

Demanding it: Discovery will also launch Discovery on Demand en Español. Showtime Networks will debut its third on-demand service, Flix on Demand, in second quarter 2005. Fuse on Demand will offer interactive gaming and localized programming and air regionally targeted auditions from its Ultimate Fuse Gig VJ search to markets nationwide this spring.

Rebranding it: In July, Court TV will become Court TV News in daytime and Court TV Seriously Entertaining in prime time, dropping its trademark fingerprint logo and taking on a sleek blue-and-white one featuring barcode-like lines adopted from DNA fingerprinting. (Court will also launch streaming-video service Court TV Extra, bringing subscribers continuous trial coverage over the Web for $5.95 a month). BBC America, which recently announced a move from Washington to New York between May and September, is undergoing a “brand refresh” starting April 4. It incorporates elements of its trademark black boxes with animated characters to introduce humor and cheekiness to the channel. As part of its own rebranding effort, which began in January, Bravo relaunches its weekend movie strand Five Star Cinema as Bravo's Big Picture this month. Films air every Friday and Saturday at 8 p.m. and will include Big Daddy, Casino and Rain Man. Starz Entertainment Group gave logo makeovers to all 13 of its Starz and Encore networks last week. Encore tacks its name on its themed movie channels; Starz picks up three new networks: Starz Comedy, male-targeted Starz Edge and Starz Kids & Family.

Here Come the Brides: WE brings back its crazy brides for a second season of Bridezilla starting June 12. Shannon Elizabeth (American Pie) stars in a new Lifetime original movie, Confessions of an American Bride, a romantic comedy about a frantic, perfectionist bride-to-be premiering in May.

Girl Talk: ABC Family launches its first two scripted drama series this summer: Wildfire, about a teenage girl who goes to live on a ranch after leaving a detention center, debuts in June, and Beautiful People, about a mother and two daughters who move from New Mexico to New York for a better school, arrives in August. Kathy Bates will take the starring role this fall in a Lifetime original movie, Ambulance Girl, based on the true story of food critic Jane Stern, who faced losing a successful career and loyal husband to depression.

Reality REDUX: Tennis stars Venus and Serena Williams are the latest celebs to join the genre. They just started production on six episodes of a reality show about life off the court scheduled for a July debut on ABC Family. Hulk Hogan, along with wife Linda and two teenage kids, lets VH1 inside their Clearwater, Fla., estate this summer in Hogan Knows Best. Danny Bonaduce and wife Gretchen join VH1 for some couple's therapy in Being Bonaduce. Meanwhile, The Surreal Life returns for a fifth season Sept. 4. This year's crop of washed-up celebs bunking together include Jose Canseco, Bronson Pinchot and Apprentice castoff Omarosa Manigault-Stallworth. Fox Reality Channel debuts June 1. National Geographic goes on a quest for some actual reality in its fall series Is It Real?, which uses detective work to investigate supernatural phenomena and legends, including Bigfoot and the Bermuda Triangle.

Kids Only: Comcast's new kids network launches April 4 in partnership with PBS, Sesame Workshop and HIT Entertainment. Cartoon Network's preschool block Tickle U launches Aug. 22.

Car dealers: History Channel rolls out Automaniac, a 13-episode series about vehicles driven by gangsters, police and the rich and famous, on June 1. G4 rides with the fast crowd in a new automotive-programming block, The Whip Set, on April 10. It will feature Formula D and import car racing show Street Fury.

Classic Comebacks: BBC America teams with with BBC's drama factory to present revamped editions of four Shakespeare classics: Modern adaptations of The Taming of the Shrew, Much Ado About Nothing, A Midsummer Night's Dream and Macbeth will premiere later this year with some of the UK's leading actors. ESPN Classic introduces a new lineup: The network's hour-long signature series Classic Now debuts late spring/early summer and airs nightly; it examines present sports news through a historic lens. Top-20 countdown show Who's #1? and Top 5 Reasons You Can't Blame…, which vindicates athletes and coaches wrongly accused of perceived sports errors, will debut on ESPN2 on April 11 (to fill a hole left by the NHL) and then move to ESPN Classic on May 2.