Cable Branches Out

PASADENA, Calif. — Cable networks continue to expand into new content genres, unveiling a slate of new original scripted series, reality shows and documentaries during the cable portion of the Television Critics Association’s 2013 Winter Press Tour last week.

Nearly 30 cable networks rolled out their new programming strategies to more than 200 TV critics during the start of the annual three-week tour here.

CNBC announced the spring launch of two primetime reality series, The Family Business Project, in which three familyowned companies will compete for a $50,000 cash prize; and The Big Fix, in which a business troubleshooter invests his own money to help rebuild faltering companies. The pickups join Treasure Detectives and The Car Chasers, CNBC’s firsts foray into the reality space, which both premiere March 5.

OWN in May will debut its first two original series from actor/producer Tyler Perry as part of its 2013 programming schedule.

The two series, the first in the network’s multiyear production deal with Perry, are drama The Haves and the Have Nots, following the exploits of an affluent family and the impoverished clan of their housekeeper; and Love Thy Neighbor, a comedy set in a diner.

Hallmark Channel said it will introduce its first primetime scripted series, Debbie Macomber’s Cedar Cove, on June 8 at 9 p.m. (ET), a week after the two-hour original movie/ backdoor pilot of the same name premieres on June 1.

Based on a best-selling book series, Cedar Cove stars Andie MacDowell as a small-town judge and Dylan Neal as the new newspaper editor who becomes her love interest.

TNT and TBS both said they would pursue a year-long original programming schedule, backed by the launch of several new reality series.

The Turner Broadcasting System networks, known mostly for summertime original scripted series, will launch five reality shows over the next six months: TBS’s King of the Nerds (January) and Who Gets the Last Laugh (spring); and TNT’s Boston’s Finest (February), The Hero and 72 Hours (both in May), TNT and TBS president and head of programming Michael Wright said.

TNT’s reality series will join a new hospital-based drama series, Monday Mornings, as well as the drama network’s returning series Falling Skies, Rizzoli & Isles and Franklin & Bash.

TBS’s nonfiction series will join TBS freshman scripted series Sullivan & Son and Wedding Band, as well as the fourth season of comedy series Cougar Town, which TBS picked up from ABC last season.

E! president Suzanne Kolb told Multichannel News last week that the network is looking at several scripted pilots to supplement its reality and entertainment news fare, with the hopes of launching a series either late this year or in 2014, although she would not disclose specifics.

Syfy announced an April 15 premiere date for its new series Defiance, in which the advancement of the plot — which focuses on the co-existence of humans and various alien species on Earth — dovetails with a massive multi-player online video game version of the series, general manager Dave Howe said.

Starz will “dramatically accelerate our ramp up into original programming” now that the company is being spun off from Liberty Media, said network CEO Chris Albrecht.

As part of that ramp-up, the network announced an April 12 launch date for its newest drama series, Da Vinci’s Demons, one of three new series — along with the limitedrun The White Queen and drama Black Sails — that will launch on Starz in the next year. The premium channel said it has at least three more series in development.

Sports will serve as the backdrop for several new original series. Golf Channel will team with former ESPN and NBC Sports reporter Jimmy Roberts to create a new series that looks to uncover compelling stories in golf. In Play With Jimmy Roberts starts March 12 and will chronicle stories from celebrities and everyday people, all unified by the sport of golf.

The network also said the third season of Feherty, hosted by former pro golfer David Feherty, will launch Feb. 25. Interview subjects include Jack Nicklaus, Bobby Knight, Jim Nantz, Phil Mickelson and Nick Faldo.

E! will turn its cameras loose on Olympic gold medal swimmer Ryan Lochte, who gets his own reality series launching in April, network officials said.

War and conflict-themed programming will also garner a high profile on several cable networks in the upcoming months.

Animal Planet will launch a three-part miniseries March 7 covering the illegal killing of rhinoceros. Battleground: Rhino Wars follows a South African anti-poaching unit trying to stop the illegal trade of rhino horns, president and general manager Marjorie Kaplan said. Whale Wars will be back for a sixth season as well.

National Geographic Channel will continue to mine the military genre with a new series focusing on an elite U.S. Air Force pararescue squad, based in Afghanistan.

Inside Combat Rescue will, for the first time, embed cameras with a specialized group of rescuers who save critically wounded soldiers in Kandahar, Afghanistan, National Geographic Channels president Howard Owens said.

The announcement follows on the heels of the network’s November documentary Seal Team Six, which generated 4.7 million viewers, according to network officials.

Discovery Channel later this year will go behind the scenes at the White House with the special The Presidents’ Gatekeepers. It will feature interviews with 19 White House chiefs of staff over six administrations, discussing key moments and heated debates that helped shape history, Discovery officials said.

The issue of violence on TV — brought into sharp focus since the Dec. 14 mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn. — also came up at TCA.

FX general manager John Landgraf touched on the matter last Wednesday, saying more information is needed before it can be said that violent content played a role in recent incidents of mass shooting across the U.S.

“I think as an industry we should study it more, and if we can find the actual correlations, we should act upon those correlations,” Landgraf said during his executive session.

Landgraf cited statistics showing the gun-related violence homicide rate in the U.S. is 90 times that of the United Kingdom, despite the fact that both countries consume many of the same movies, TV shows and video games.


TCA made it clear: Networks this year are looking to spread their wings into new genres.

R. Thomas Umstead

R. Thomas Umstead serves as senior content producer, programming for Multichannel News, Broadcasting + Cable and Next TV. During his more than 30-year career as a print and online journalist, Umstead has written articles on a variety of subjects ranging from TV technology, marketing and sports production to content distribution and development. He has provided expert commentary on television issues and trends for such TV, print, radio and streaming outlets as Fox News, CNBC, the Today show, USA Today, The New York Times and National Public Radio. Umstead has also filmed, produced and edited more than 100 original video interviews, profiles and news reports featuring key cable television executives as well as entertainers and celebrity personalities.