TNT Pilots 'First and Last'

Drama-centric network building non-fiction strategy

TNT, which in recent years has built its brand on scripted drama, has ordered the non-fiction pilot First and Last as part of the network's move toward incorporating select unscripted originals into primetime.

First and Last, executive-produced by Phil Gurin and Marc Jansen, would be an hour-long show split into two parts. The first half-hour would feature the stories of the first time something happens in a person's life, such as bringing home a baby from the hospital. The second is the story of a last time, such as a fireman's final day on the job upon retiring after 50 years.

Documentarian June Beallor, who produced the Oscar-winning film The Last Days, will serve as co-executive producer of the show, which is based on a European format.

Last year, Michael Wright, executive VP and head of programming for TNT, TBS and TCM, announced that his team was developing a handful of non-fiction projects for TNT for the first time since rebranding the Turner Broadcasting-owned network with the tagline “We Know Drama” in 2001.

Wright also said a year ago that by 2010, he aimed to get the network into originals in primetime on Mondays, Tuesdays and Wednesdays. Thursdays feature NBA basketball from the fall until spring, and the network's movie lineup continues to perform on Friday, Saturday and Sunday nights.

Wright tells B&C that because First and Last is rooted in dramatic stories and character, it fits into the network's DNA. “In anybody's first day of anything, the stakes are very high,” he says. “Anybody's last day of anything is filled with emotion, looking back and remembering and taking it all in.”

The network is getting into the reality business this summer with Wedding Day. The hour-long show from Mark Burnett Productions and DreamWorks Television follows a bride, who with the help of professionals, family and friends gets to see her wedding dreams come true.

Wright says he is looking for TNT's non-fiction entries to be self-starters on the schedule, so don't look for Wedding Day to get a lead-in from TNT hit The Closer.

“It's unlikely that I would use The Closer to tee up an unscripted show,” he says. “That's such frankly valuable real estate, because the investment is bigger in scripted drama.”

In addition to Wedding Day and Closer, also on tap this summer are new seasons of Steven Bochco's Raising the Bar and Saving Grace, as well as new entries Time Heals, starring Jada Pinkett Smith; The Line, starring Dylan McDermott; and possibly one other show.

The network recently launched its third, fourth and fifth drama series to varying results. Last September, the premiere of the Bochco legal drama Raising the Bar drew 7.7 million viewers before leveling off at an average of 5.5 million. The December 2008 premiere of Leverage drew 5.6 million viewers, but has averaged 3.2 million through its first nine episodes.

And the Jan. 26 premiere of Trust Me, starring Eric McCormack and Tom Cavanagh, did not fare so well despite a Closer lead-in. It dropped nearly 50% from a fresh episode of The Closer, drawing 3.4 million total viewers and averaging a 1.3 in the 18-49 demographic. The Closer, cable's most-watched drama, drew 6.4 million viewers and a 1.9 in the demo as a lead-in.

But Wright is willing to be patient with Trust Me: “We're fine with how it did and anxious to see how it does in the coming weeks.”