The reality bubble is deflating on cable networks. A few recently launched shows, notably USA's Combat Missions
and Bravo's It Factor, signal the last trickle. For spring and summer, the buzz is, broad-based entertainment networks are forging ahead on scripted drama series.
Land a hit, and the spoils could be appointment viewing and a valuable promotional platform. "You're always hoping for a grand slam," says USA Network President Doug Herzog. "If you hit it out of the park, it can have an impact on the ratings."
Lifetime's successful trio of Sunday-night dramas, among cable's highest-rated series, are the benchmark. TNT's sci-fi drama Witchblade
averaged a 2.3 Nielsen rating last summer, good enough for a second run coming in June.
Programming execs acknowledge that dramas are tough to pull off. "Drama is expensive and has a high mortality rate," says A&E Senior VP of Programming Allen Sabinson. A non-scripted show can cost $200,000 an episode; a well-done drama can be $500,000 to $1 million per episode, plus promotion and marketing costs.
Even so, the field will get more crowded. A&E, with modestly successful Nero Wolfe
and 100 Centre St., hopes to add a third original series in September. After scrapping Bull Run
and Breaking News last year, TNT is looking for another drama or two to back up its "We Know Drama" campaign.
USA is getting back in the drama game with Dead Zone, slated for June debut. "This is the first step in getting us back to a leadership position," Herzog said.
FX unveils its dark Los Angeles-based cop drama The Shield
in March. It's considering a pilot project Lucky
as a replacement for scrapped comedy series Bad News, Mr. Swanson
. FX President Peter Liguori says he wants ultimately three scripted originals on his channel.
Sci Fi debuts two-part miniseries Fire-starter: Rekindled, based on Stephen King's novel, March 10-11. If a success, says network Executive Vice President and GM Bonnie Hammer, it could spawn a full series.