CMT Buys Into New Plan WithUnscripted, Comedy Pickups

CMT has been on a buying spree of late, launching the reboot Cops Reloaded in March, greenlighting unscripted Orange County Chopper with Paul Teutul Sr. last month and acquiring Hell’s Kitchen (which debuted May 27) and Fox’s Raising Hope (for fall 2014).

This week the network will add another show to that list, announcing the pickup of new competition series Tattoo Titans, where four different tattoo artists compete each week for a cash prize. CMT will pair the show with Choppers in November. While the reality space is crowded with tattoo shows (Oxygen’s Best Ink, Spike’s Ink Master and Tattoo Nightmares), Katie Buchanan, CMT senior VP of programming strategy, says Titans will have CMT’s own unique take, including that each episode will be self-contained. “A goal in our programming strategy is to get more of these repeatable format shows on the air because that’s extending the equity of the shows for us,” she says.

The network has seen that with new series Dog and Beth: On the Hunt, whose repeats are tracking 42% higher than other CMT originals. In May, CMT ordered 11 more episodes of the series to minimize downtime between its July 14 finale and when new episodes premiere in mid-August.

Dog and the acquisitions have helped CMT’s ratings rebound; through eight weeks of the second quarter, viewers 18-49 were up 47% from the same period a year ago. The network hopes to continue that momentum this week with the CMT Music Awards and the season premiere of Redneck Island on June 5; new series Hillbillies for Hire is set to launch in July.

Hillbillies will air on Sundays like Dog, the latter marking the first time CMT launched an original on the highly competitive night. And though CMT is pleased with the results, it will move the second batch of Dog episodes to midweek to avoid NFL football on Sundays, Mondays and Thursdays in the fall.

“The cool thing about the back 11 is it’s a chance to launch another night for us,” Buchanan says. “The über goal by 2016 is to get to at least four nights of originals.”

Bring On the Bikes

In addition to Chopper, CMT is doubling down on the motorcycle genre with a Bike Week programming stunt airing Aug. 18-24 from the Sturgis Motorcycle Rally in Sturgis, S.D. The network will air seven nights of programming from the rally through the week, including an hour on an attempt to break the Guinness World Record for driving through a tunnel of fire, an hour on the various competitions at the festival (bike build-off, homemade bikini contest) and culminating with a concert.

Other programming that week will also be bike-themed including the half-hour special Doomsday Garage, about people who build and pimp out doomsday-prepper rides (which could be a back-door pilot); and a bike-themed finale of Hillbillies. Bike Week could become an annual event on the schedule.

“If it’s something that works, it’s very sponsorable. Ad sales really likes these kind of key tentpoles, and it takes us into the same direction that some of our originals are going,” Buchanan says.

Taking Another Comedy Swing

Raising Hope will debut on CMT in September 2014, with the network sharing off-net cable rights with WGN America and FXX. CMT saw Hope’s unique family characters and physical comedy as on-brand for its audience and was looking for a companion for Reba, which launched last September and has helped drive viewers from fringe into primetime.

CMT experimented with original scripted comedy in 2010 with the Melissa Peterman sitcom Working Class, which was canceled after one season. The network has its first animated series, Bounty Hunters, from executive producers Jeff Foxworthy, Bill Engvall and Larry the Cable Guy, premiering this July. But with Hope joining the fold, Buchanan says she would “absolutely” consider launching another original sitcom.

“It further helps us to establish a key comedy strip, and knowing that that has worked and if it continues to work we would definitely be open to looking at scripted originals that could also go down that road,” she says.

With all the new premiere hours, CMT has been staffing up (Buchanan joined the network in January) and has hired Turner’s Hector Campos as VP of programming, a new position designed to be a hybrid executive for acquisitions and strategies. Campos starts June 3.

With Campos on board and Cops continuing to grow, expect CMT’s acquisition spree to continue. “We’re going to continue to keep buying as long as we can stay within our budget,” Buchanan says.

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