Cable networks rolled out a cart of reality and dramatic programs at the Television Critics Association press tour in Pasedena last weekend.
At least 10 new series or specials were documentary-style programs, including Discovery Channel's usual multimilllion-dollar "Watch With the World" extravaganza. Discovery goes into orbit this year with Inside the Space Station, its third WWTW special, but the first shot in high-definition. The process added nearly 20% to the cost of the project, said Mike Quattrone, senior vice president and general manager of Discovery Channel.
"We're future proofing," he said. "You don't want your material, three or four years from now, looking quaint and unusable."
The total costs for Space Station are fluid, depending on continued editing and dubbing for each of the 23 countries airing the program, and how the expense will be split with Discovery Channel's sister international division. The network is still recovering some of the $10 million it and the BBC spent on last year's Walking With Dinosaurs.
"This company doesn't look at costs on a per-project basis, thank God, but over the life span of the project. Just make sure you make your numbers at the end of the year," he laughed.
Discovery will spend roughly $165 million on programming this year, according to Paul Kagan Associates.
Besides cartoons on Nick and Cartoon, only a couple of new shows go for laughs, and tenuously at that. HBO revives Curb Your Enthusiasm, with Larry David playing the droll, self-obsessed Larry David. E!'s second-ever original movie, Becoming Dick, is also purported to be a comedy
Like Discovery, reality is the nature of the programming for Food Network and HGTV. Together, the networks are rolling out at least 15 new series for fall. Nine belong to HGTV, most of them twists on home renovation with a couple of Cops-like shaky-cam series thrown in. One, Going Home, is a complete departure from the fix-it genre.
"This is part of the prime time evolution we started a couple of years ago, with more lifestyle and story-oriented shows and less do-it-yourself in prime time. Going Home is the most unique," said Burton Jablin, general manager of HGTV.
Unlike Discovery, HGTV's programming costs don't even approach multimillions. Prime time shows shot in the field come in at about $25,000 to $35,000 per half hour, according to a source at the network. Studio shows run $8,000 to $17,000 per half hour. All told, HGTV will spend about $50 million on programming this year, according to Kagan.
Other shows rolled out at TCA include six Biography knockoffs in the form of two movies and four series, each tailored to their specific networks, including BET, ESPN Classic and Romance Classics.
Exceptions to the reality rule include SpyderWeb, a new teen-targeted soap from MTV, and new shows on Cartoon Network and Nickelodeon are predictably not real.
Here's a snapshot of new shows hyped at TCA (available as of press time). When known, its scheduling is noted in parentheses.
- Queer as Folk is a British, in-your-face portrait of gay life. (4Q)
- The Chris Isaak Show is a tentatively titled faux take on the rock-and-roll life of Isaak and his band. (4Q)
- Things You Can Tell Just by Looking at Her is a tentative title for five tales of romance starring Glenn Close, Calista Flockhart, Holly Hunter, Cameron Diaz and others, and was originally intended as a theatrical release.
- The Thin Blue Lie, a Showtime film about police corruption in Philadelphia in the'70s. (Aug. 13, 8 p.m.)
- Holiday Heart is the story of a drag queen turned surrogate mother. (4Q)
- One Day in September documents the 1972 Olympic Games massacre. (September)
- HATE.COM: Extremists on the Internet is a documentary examining the link between hate propaganda and terrorism. (October)
- Arturo Sandoval is a biography of the Grammy Award winning Cuban trumpet player. (November)
- Disappearing Acts, based on the novel by Terry McMillan, is a romantic drama about a singer on the cusp of her big break. (December)
- Curb Your Enthusiasm stars Larry David as himself. (October)
(all times Eastern)
- B. Smith With Style, an entertaining and lifestyle primer from New York City restaurateur, B. Smith. (beginning Monday, Aug. 28 at noon)
- Melting Pot is Food's cavalcade of world cuisine. (beginning Monday, Aug. 28 at 3:30 p.m.)
- Ming's Quest, featuring Emmy Award-winning chef Ming Tsai traveling around the country preparing regional cuisine with local ingredients. (beginning Thursday, Aug. 31 at 10 p.m.)
- On Wolfgang, celebrity chef Wolfgang Puck shares his secrets.
- Naked Chef , a UK import with Brit chef Jamie Oliver stripping cooking down to basics. (October 2000)
- Sweet Dreams is what it implies-a definitive dessert show. (October 2000)
(all times Eastern; premieres are all the week of Oct. 7)
- In Designer's Challenge, three interior designers compete to solve a decorating dilemma. (Thursdays, 9:30 p.m.)
- Dream Drives is a vicarious visit via TV to the country's chi-chi neighborhoods. (Fridays, 10 p.m.)
- Fantasy Open House takes the cameras inside mansions for sale. (Fridays, 10:30 p.m.)
- Going Home is a cinema véritéseries following people back to their hometowns. (Tuesdays, 10:30 p.m.)
- In Help Around the House, an intrepid handyman arrives to help unsuspecting victims of bad household maintenance. (Saturdays and Sundays, 9 a.m.)
- World Garden Tour, narrated by Stockard Channing, visits the world's most famous gardens. (Sundays, 3 p.m.)
- Our Place is a decorating tip, studio-based show. (Monday-Friday, 9:30 a.m.)
- Restore & Restyle features restoration projects in a newsmagazine format. (Sundays, 6 p.m.; Tuesdays at 7:30 p.m.)
- Weekend Warriors is another cinema véritéproject, this one about people doing renovations on the weekend. Think Cops-plus-This Old House. (Tuesdays, 10 p.m.)
- SpyderWeb follows a computer-gaming family-dynasty murder mystery in a daily half-hour format. (October)
- Road Home follows musicians as they return to their hometowns. The Goo Goo Dolls go first. (beginning Sunday, July 23)
- MTV's Making the Tour, a knockoff of Making the Video. In this one, boy band'NSync goes first. (beginning Monday, July 17, 4:30 p.m.)
- First Listen features music from yet-to-be released compilations. (beginning Tuesday, Aug. 29)
- Scariest Places on Earth takes viewers to where the title implies in five separate one-hour episodes.
- Watch With the World: Inside the Space Station, Discovery's third global programming event explores the International Space Station, a 16-nation endeavor under construction above the ionosphere. Inside was shot and will be aired in high-definition. (4Q)
- Shark Week will include Discovery's first crack at three-dimensional programming with Sharks 3-D, one of several new programs in the 13-year-old franchise. (Week of Aug. 13)
- In The Book of Pooh, the wayward bear is created with Indonesian puppetry and computer-generated sets. (Disney Channel's Playhouse Disney programming block, early next year.)
- In A Heartbeat is a teen drama based on a real-life volunteer emergency-medical-technician squad staffed by high-school students. (August)
- SportsCentury, a one-hour biography program; the inaugural episode features Joe DiMaggio. (Beginning July 10, Monday-Friday at 8 p.m.)
- The Intruder, the online/on-air interactive adventures of Tom, the computer-generated host of Cartoon's Toonami 4-7 p.m. block, as he battles an alien intruder aboard his spaceship. (September)
E! Entertainment Television
- Becoming Dick, a comedy and E!'s second original movie, follows a schmuck who gets noticed when he gets mean. (Beginning Thursday, Aug. 31, 9 p.m.)
A & E
- Peter Pan stars Cathy Rigby as the boy who won't grow up.
- Child Stars: Their Story, is a special produced by Bill Kurtis looking at the adult lives of former child celebrities.
American Movie Classics
- Backstory is a series combining elements of Biography and Making the Video, featuring stars, directors and writers slinging dirt behind the scenes.
- Cool Women celebrates women who have defied the imposed limits of the gender.
- A Huey P. Newton Story, a BET original in conjunction with PBS, examining the life of the Black Panthers co-founder Newton. BET will also roll out 5 more Arabesque films, a Black biography series and a new music show.