This week CMT will announce four new series and two returning series slated to premiere on the network this fall and winter, the result of a development slate that has quadrupled in the last six months, according to Jayson Dinsmore, executive VP of development and programming for CMT. The network will also program two nights of originals for the first time.
The Viacom-owned network is coming off a summer that saw it open up a new night of original programming on Thursdays with new series Sweet Home Alabama (already renewed for a second season) and Texas Women that contributed to primetime ratings gains of 10 percent over the prior four-week time period.
"It seemed like when I got to the network everyone was chasing the History channel, and we didn't want to be the 12th network chasing after their success," says Dinsmore, a former NBC reality exec. "I found a void in the marketplace with younger females who have a bit of a moral compass, and that moral center has created sort of a premier destination for our development, and it's working."
The series in production represent multiple genres, including CMT's first food show, and will give the network two nights of original programming, on Thursdays and Fridays, for the first time starting in October.
The first of the new shows premiering on Friday, Oct. 7 is Top Secret Recipe, where food hacker host Todd Wilbur investigates iconic American recipes like KFC and Cinnabon and attempts to recreate them. That will lead into Trick My What? hosted by John Schneider, which gives blue-collar workers the chance to trick out anything with an engine to help put food on the table for their families.
Dinsmore likes to call CMT the smallest broadcast network in TV in that "we are taking very broad and familiar ideas that our audience is very comfortable with and then putting it through the CMT filter," he says.
On Thursday, Oct. 20, Dallas Cowboys Cheerleaders: Making the Team will return for a sixth season, leading into season two of Sweet Home Alabama, CMT's version of The Bachelorette. And in the tradition of the ABC franchise, this cycle will star the male runner-up from season one signing on for another shot at love.
In December or January, CMT will roll out the next batch of new series, Bayou Billionaires and Summer Rental, likely sticking to the same Thursday or Friday scheduling for originals.
Bayou Billionaires follows the Dowden family of Shreveport, La., who strike it rich after discovering their home sits on the fourth-largest deposit of natural gas in the country and enjoy new perks like joining a country club and hiring personal trainers. Another family-centric show, Summer Rental, follows a fish-out-of-water Southern family as they visit a fancy beach rental in the Hamptons for the summer. Both shows have 10-episode orders.
All of the new series are hours except Bayou Billionaires, a departure from most of the network's previous development, which tended to be half-hours. "You can get more bang for your buck for very little additional money to expand your half hours to hours," Dinsmore says.
Besides the four new series announced this week, CMT also has more content in the pipeline than ever before, with 12 series in various stages of production and an additional 25 other pilots and presentations in the works, many with celebrities at the epicenter. The network also recently brought on Eliot Goldberg, who previously helped launch Hot in Cleveland and Keeping Up With the Kardashians, as senior VP of development and programming.
But despite experimenting with its first original scripted sitcom last winter (Working Class, which launched in January to 1.2 million viewers and was canceled after its first season), all of CMT's current development is of the unscripted genre. Dinsmore says he's still open to developing scripted shows for CMT but says "it has to be one heck of a package," due to the finances associated with launching such a project.
"We were very happy with Working Class, but it didn't quite repeat well enough for us to continue to put all our eggs in that basket," Dinsmore says. "Right now what we're trying to do is build a stable schedule with repeatable reality shows and then we'll get back into scripted dramas and half-hour comedies."
For now, the network still has CMT original movies once a quarter, the next of which, Reel Love starring LeAnn Rimes and Burt Reynolds, will premiere in November.
"We are not abandoning scripted," Dinsmore says, "We're just approaching it differently."
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