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Bravo Chief 'No's' What He Wants

Bravo President Jeff Gaspin had a few heartfelt "No's" for media buyers last week in New York. No, he said, Bravo would not become NBC's repurposing dumping ground. And no, Bravo is not abandoning its arts-and-entertainment roots.

What Bravo will do, Gaspin contends, is broaden its reach and enhance the brand.

"Bravo will continue to be an arts-and-entertainment network. This focus has been abandoned by others, and this is an opportunity to own it," Gaspin said at Bravo's upfront presentation, the first since it joined the NBC stable last December.

Said NBC Sales President Keith Turner, "Bravo's upscale, educated audience is the perfect compliment to the rest of our properties."

Gaspin, who also serves as NBC's executive vice president of alternative programming, unveiled his first slate for Bravo's 2003-04 season, headlined by three new series and a pricey acquisition. New series include a Cirque Du Soleil variety show and More Than Music, an eight-episode series tracing the roots of hit songs like "Heartbreak Hotel" and "Smells Like Teen Spirit." Bravo's first reality show, Queer Eye for the Straight Guy, on which five gay lifestyle "experts" make-over a desperate straight man, debuts in July.

Bravo, which just passed 70 million subscribers, also plans 11 specials and limited series tied to arts and entertainment. The Reality of Reality
, a five-part series, will examine the reality-TV craze. Stage Moms
looks at the mothers of wannabe child stars, and The TV Revolution
explores TV's impact on society from Will & Grace
to All in the Family. Both are five-part series.

Trying to explain his vision for Bravo, Gaspin said, "I want Bravo to be to TV what Cirque du Soleil is to the circus, what Off-Broadway is to Broadway and what Miramax is to movies."

John Rash, director of broadcast negotiations for media buyer Campbell Mithun, said, "Bravo effectively positioned itself as an entertaining but erudite option. That could be broadened, but it's imperative not to lose their point of distinction."

Of course, some Bravo classics, like Inside the Actors Studio
and high-brow movies, are still front and center.

One of NBC's biggest Bravo pushes, though, is actually an inherited acquisition: reruns of The West Wing. Under former parents Cablevision and MGM, Bravo coughed up a rich $1.2 million per episode for reruns of the hit drama. Now NBC is under pressure to make the acquisition work. Bravo debuts West Wing
in August, and Gaspin promised NBC would give it strong promotion.

NBC paid $1.25 billion to buy Bravo last December from Cablevision and MGM and straightaway started tinkering. NBC sharpened up Bravo's promos and even gave it a few plugs on the broadcast network. There has been some repurposing, too. NBC's re-aired last January's Golden Globe Awards on Bravo, as well as NBC dramas Boomtown
and Kingpin. (A racier, alternate version of Kingpin
also ran on Bravo.)

The key to repurposing, Gaspin said, is balance. "Only a small amount of NBC programming will appear on Bravo and only when it is a natural fit."

So far, ratings are relatively unchanged. Bravo's 0.3 prime time average in the first quarter was flat with last year.

Bravo will also look for a few ratings pops from some event programming. The biggest will be the 2004 Athens Summer Games, courtesy of rightsholder NBC. Other upcoming events The 18th Independent Spirit Awards, Entertainer of The Year and next January's Golden Globe Awards.