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Cable Nets Bullish as Upfronts Get Underway

NEW YORK — The college basketball season ended last week and it coincided with a deep push by cable programmers into Madison Avenue Madness, otherwise known as the upfront season, as a number of networks made their presentations here.

While analyst forecasts are pegging a downturn or, at best, a flat performance by broadcast, predictions are healthier for cable.

Fox Cable Networks ad-sales president Lou LaTorre, in a meeting with reporters at 21st Century Fox’s offices here on April 9, said he expected cable to register about 5% growth during the upfront auctions and a 5% to 6% gain overall when scatter market sales are tallied.

“Cable will be very healthy in this coming year,” LaTorre said, noting that a 5% rise in upfront commitments could translate into $500 million on the cable front. Over the full year, he said, the gains should be about $1 billion.

Following are highlights from a number of programmers’ presentations last week, as they gear up to gain their slices of the 2014-15 TV season’s upfront pie.

FX/FXX

With FXX now firmly in tow, FX Networks CEO John Landgraf told reporters the programmer plans to double its originals output from 11 to 20 offerings over the next year.

While not making any new announcements, Landgraf detailed FX and FXX’s upcoming programming slate, which includes dramas Tyrant and The Strain, as well as comedies You’re the Worse, Married, The Comedians and an untitled Tracy Morgan project. FX also has its next 10/90 series with the Kelsey Grammer-Martin Lawrence starrer The Partnership. It bows the limited series Fargo this week (see review).

FX Networks also has six pilots in development, including dramas Hoke and The Bastard Executioner and comedies How and Why, Man-Seeking Woman, Sex and Drugsand Rock and Roll and an untitled Zach Galifianakis project, which will help mollify the exits of Wilfred on FXX this summer, and, on FX, Sons of Anarchy in the fall and Justified early next year.

— Tim Baysinger, Broadcasting & Cable

Oxygen/Bravo

Aimed at young women still finding their place, Oxygen has scored impressive gains among the elusive female 18-to-34 set, carving out a 5% advance in 2013, while the rest of the industry sustained a 2% decline, Frances Berwick, president of Bravo & Oxygen Media, said.

Oxygen will rebrand itself later this year, shaping a lineup rooted in the attributes of its viewer constituency: vibrant, confident, bold and optimistic.

Its new slate will be highlighted by Fix My Choir, starring gospel star Deitrick Haddon (Preachers of L.A.) and Destiny’s Child’s Michelle Williams, who both performed at the April 8 upfront breakfast. The network also ordered Funny Girls (working title), about up-and-coming female standup comics, as well as Nail’d It, Street Art Throwdown (w.t.), Sisterhood of Hip-Hop, My Crazy Love (w.t.) and Living Different (w.t.).

Bravo talked up its best deliveries ever among adults 18 to 49 and 25 to 54 during the first quarter, as well as its positioning atop metrics for the most engaged, educated and affluent viewers.

While returning 16 series, Bravo also is bowing 15 new shows, including its first scripted entries: Odd Mom Out, based not so loosely on the Upper East Side world of author and fashionista Jill Kargman, and the previously announced Girlfriend’s Guide to Divorce, starring Lisa Edelstein. On the unscripted side, Bravo is cooking up Top Chef spinoff Top Chef: Duels and the latest incarnations of its Million Dollar Listings and The Real Housewives franchises.

CNN/HLN

CNN said it’s “going there,” and those who ventured to its April 11 upfront heard that the news network is adding five new series and returning two shows to its primetime lineup.

The new originals include documentary series from such familiar faces as John Walsh and Lisa Ling, as well as Somebody’s Gotta Do It, featuring former Discovery Channel star Mike Rowe; The Jesus Code, a forensic and archaeological study of the Bible; and a 10-part original series from producers Tom Hanks and Gary Goetzman that will look back on The Sixties.

CNN also is extending its TV Everywhere play with a next-generation product giving authenticated viewers access to 24-hour news rundowns and access to ondemand segments, flanked by complementary digital content. Initially, CNNx is available to verified CNN video subscribers via the iPad and will be accessible on other platforms later this year. The service will bow on set-top boxes and CNN.com by year-end.

HLN inked a strategic partnership with Twitter encompassing both content and advertising components.

The Daily Share, a one-hour nightly news program, will join the HLN lineup, proffering a digest of what people are watching, searching for, playing, sharing, shopping for and creating in their social-media lives. And 11 new projects have been added to the six that were already in the pipeline.

REELZ Channel

The movie-centric service turned its upfront at the Hudson Hotel into Octoberfest, replete with a performance by the Chardon Polka Band, which is part of one of its new shows, Polka Kings.

New series include Mansion Matchmakers (July), a reality docuseries offering an insider’s look at Hollywood mansions, and Branson Cab (January 2015), a profile of a multimillion dollar family-owned cab company in Branson, Mo.

UP

While UP, the former GMC TV/Gospel Music Channel, is pushing toward a broader mix of family-friendly series and telefilms, it is airing 21 Bible-related movies and miniseries as part of its annual Easter programming block, including the April 13 commercial television debut of The Passion of the Christ. The Easter fare concludes with the premiere of Apple Mortgage Cake.

UP has several other telefi lms in the coming months, including Life of a King and Noah, the network’s first biblical epic, plus a pair of new series, said Lisa Fischer, executive vice president of ad sales. She was on the network’s executive bus, which was parked alongside New York’s Bryant Park on April 8.

Executive editor Kent Gibbons contributed to this report.