Further looking to make the most of its considerable broadcasting real estate, Ion Television announced today it will produce 12 original films per year, with the first-a Christmas movie-debuting in the fall of 2009. Ion will debut an original film each month after that.
"There's plenty of room out there to do movies," new Executive V.P. of Programming Leslie Chesloff said from Ion's midtown Manhattan headquarters this afternoon. "We're stepping our toe into original production."
Chesloff said the films, which Ion will develop from script to finished product, could lead to what she called "back-door pilots" for the network. Ion will work with advertisers, she added, on "integrated marketing opportunities" in the films, which will cover a wide range of genres.
The network also offered peeks at three Canadian series making their U.S. debut on Ion: the suburban thriller series Durham County, which bears the tagline, "This is no Wisteria Lane"; the Homeland Security drama The Border; and the Coast Guard-themed action series The Guard. Durham will debut in the fall of 2009, and the others after that.
Once the home of aging reruns like Mama's Family and Who's the Boss?, Ion has been ramping up both its original production and its acquired series through programs like Boston Legal and NCIS. Last spring, Ion partnered with RHI Entertainment to air four original westerns on Saturday nights. Come fall, it will air Ghost Whisperer at 8 and Criminal Minds at 9; Durham County is slated for the 10 p.m. slot.
Acquired films like Goodfellas and Batman Forever help round out the schedule.
The gritty dramas further shift Ion from its family-friendly past as Pax TV, and more into general entertainment. "We're as far away from what we used to be as can be," said Chesloff, formerly a senior V.P. at Lifetime.
Ion execs also announced they're taking back two hours of paid programming each weekday. They were pleased to share Ion's viewership growth over the past year, including a 16% boost in primetime households from last season to the current one.
Ion's 60 stations reach 94 million homes nationwide. Brass did not say there were plans for local programming at the station level, but didn't rule out the possibility either. "You never say never," said Chesloff.