Pasadena, Calif. – LeBron James, who already has a producing credit on Survivor's Remorse on Starz and a co-starring turn in last summer's Trainwreck on his Hollywood resume, is coming home with a new show on CNBC.
The Cleveland Cavaliers star, whose return to the team in 2014 electrified the sports world, is producing Cleveland Hustles, a show about entrepreneurs devising business solutions to help a struggling section of the city rebound. Like other cities in the Rust Belt, Cleveland and neighboring Akron (James' hometown), have been hit hard by the decline in manufacturing jobs in recent decades. While financial services and other sectors have helped keep the city from the brink, large sections remain depressed and in urgent need of economic revitalization.
"The goal is to bring up a struggling neighborhood," said Jim Ackerman, executive VP of primetime alternative for CNBC, during the network's TCA Winter Press Tour session. He added dryly, "I don't think he's going to retire from his other job." James, whose foundation has benefited Cleveland area youth, "takes his role as an inspirational figure quite seriously," Ackerman told B&C. "This guy makes an insane impact on the youth of Akron, Ohio. He's as real a deal as you can get."
Producers have scouted five or six neighborhoods in Cleveland and will pick one and begin to shoot in the coming weeks, with a plan for a summer premiere. James will appear on camera during the show.
The James news came during a midday session in which CNBC touted its ratings gains in primetime and touted a growing lineup.
CNBC unveiled plans for The Partner, a new series featuring businessman and investor Marcus Lemonis, who already hosts CNBC's The Profit. The focus, instead of on the emerging company in which he could invest, is on finding the right person to help him run these startup companies.
Ackerman told B&C after leaving the stage that when CNBC first started to remake its primetime daypart several years ago, Shark Tank reruns initially outdrew fledgling originals, but now several of their newer titles routinely come out on top. After a record 2014, CNBC in 2015 recorded a 31% increase in the key P25-54 demographic. CNBC has now delivered eight consecutive quarters of year-over-year growth among P25-54; the only cable network to deliver such significant gains. This was CNBC’s most-watched year among P25-54 since 2001.
Sizing up the primetime push, Ackerman said, "The advantage was that people in the business community recognize that CNBC stood for something." Viewership, while growing, remains modest by comparison with that for some of the unscripted behemoths. Then again, he joked, "other cable networks had a 25-year head start."