Cable’s Summer Heats Up!

Sorry, we couldn’t resist. But here are three of basic cable’s biggest bets this summer.
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As the broadcast networks (and plenty of cablers) trot out their summer slate of reality series, it’s once again cable’s turn to step into the spotlight with new scripted programming. And this year, three of the biggest summer players in basic cable—USA, TNT and FX—are looking to try some new things.

USA: More Hours Than Ever

The No. 1 cable network will program more original hours than ever this summer, with weeknight blocks of nine original series. In addition to returning hits, the schedule will premiere two new series, Necessary Roughness and Suits, which represent a push out from the network’s “blue sky” brand. As the net programs more hours, execs are looking for shows that won’t all look the same paired next to each other.

“Two years ago, it was OK to go into our boss’ office and say ‘this feels like a USA show.’ Now that’s not enough,” says Bill McGoldrick, senior VP, original scripted programming at USA.

TNT: Pushing Beyond ‘Populist’ Franchises

TNT is hoping that a push from a popular villain can lead to success beyond its populist heroes. TNT had record viewership for its NBA coverage this season (thank you, LeBron), giving it plenty of opportunity to promote its summer schedule to a large audience.

On tap are two new series—Franklin & Bash and Falling Skies—a duo that represents the network’s effort to program both its bread-and-butter franchise dramas and push into less-expected fare. “At this point in our evolution, we’re also trying to challenge ourselves and our audience,” says Michael Wright, executive VP and head of programming for TBS, TNT and TCM.

Following in the path of last year’s Men of a Certain Age, rookie Falling Skies, the alien invasion thriller from Steven Spielberg, will tread new territory for the net, while legal procedural Franklin & Bash should fit in nicely with the likes of The Closer and Rizzoli & Isles. The connective thread running through both types of series, Wright says, is that all have “wonderful populist heroes,” allowing shows from each category to complement each other.

FX: A Big Swing in ‘Wilfred’

Everyone at every network seems to be curious about Wilfred, FX’s new comedy that stars Elijah Wood as Ryan, a man who befriends his neighbor’s dog (to Ryan, a man dressed in a dog suit) who helps him navigate life’s existential questions— sort of a Harvey for the millennium age.

FX execs say the show has found itself quickly where other comedies, like It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia and The League, took a few seasons to build. “All of our comedies have not necessarily come out of the gate like some of our successful dramas do,” says Nick Grad, executive VP of original programming for FX.

But they’re hoping to see Wilfred connect with viewers quickly, as well as lead an audience into season two of Louie. Execs hope the pairing will help cement FX’s comedy brand of shows that are funny but have a point of view. “The more shows we launch, the more people understand what our comedy gestalt is,” Grad says.

E-mail comments to amorabito@nbmedia.com and follow her on Twitter: @andreamorabito

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