DirecTV 101’s Fresh Look

With new packaging and an enhanced programming lineup, DirecTV is positioning its 101 Network to extend well beyond the core level its moniker suggests.

The top satellite-TV provider’s exclusive, commercial-free HD service will unveil a fresh look, as well as become the syndicated home for HBO series Oz and Deadwood on May 31.

Launched in January 2006, 101 Network, which has been home to a series of concert programming over the years, gained widespread recognition beyond DirecTV households when it became the co-producer, along with NBC, and first-window home to the third season of Friday Night Lights.

Given similar commitments to fourth and fifth seasons of the acclaimed high-school football drama, the acquisition of the HBO shows and rights to “busted” series, DirecTV thought it was the right time to sport a new look for its “more mature service,” said Patty Ishimoto, vice president, entertainment, general manager, The 101 Network, of the channel’s first major on-air revamp. The service stripped out advertising last October to adopt a more premium-network feel.

Ishimito said the rebrand, about a half-year in the works, includes a new logo, 3-D graphics and broadcast elements, including fresh show opens and lower-third presentations trumpeting tune-in and promotional information.

The service will also feature a new Sunday-night lineup with Deadwood at 9 p.m., followed by Oz at 10 p.m., replete with show creator Tom Fontana providing first-ever introductions. Ishimoto said the 101 Network has exclusive TV rights (as well as DirecTV on Demand) to all three seasons (36 episodes) of the western and six seasons (56 installments) of the prison show for the next 14 months. (HBO said it will defer on-demand presentations for several months,)

The network’s lineup also includes Showtime’s Sleeper Cell and broadcast-network series like Peter Berg’s Wonderland and Smith, which didn’t complete full-season broadcast runs on ABC or CBS and came replete with never-before-spooled installments.

In that vein, 101 Network launched The Nine, an ABC drama that delved into the lives of nine people caught in a 52-hour hostage standoff during a bank robbery, on May 27 at 10 p.m. (ET/PT). The 2006 series returns with 13 episodes, including four that were never broadcast.

Come September, 101 Network will resuscitate ABC’s one-hour detective drama Eyes, starring Tim Daly as the owner of a private-investigation firm that makes problems go away quickly and quietly. Seven of its 12 episodes have never aired.

In between, 101 Network will showcase a number of concert performances from the likes of Ben Harper and Relentless 7, Mötley Crüe and Third Eye Blind, and shore up its daytime programming lineup with the addition of a simulcast of The Dan Patrick Show. Beginning July 20, the syndicated radio show will air live from 9 a.m. to noon and then encore in the afternoon. The parties are working on adding some proprietary elements for DirecTV viewers, according to Ishimoto.

Overall, the network is taking aim at men 35 and older.

“We’re not trying to be Spike TV. Our audience is older and married with kids,” said Ishimoto, who is guiding the network to shows that have “an edge and high production values.”

With network upfront presentations just concluded, any number of pilots and projects failed to make it to series level. But DirecTV and 101 Network will not dip into those waters.

“Obviously, we know the key players at the networks and the studios, but we’re not actively engaged in wanting to break the next big show,” said Ishimoto. “At this point, we have no desire to be in the development business.”

At the same time, 101 Network wants to tap other resources beyond series that only played rookie seasons for broadcast, or on the premium airwaves.

To that end, 101 is spending a lot of time focusing on international fare from the U.K., Australia and Canada, which yielded Trailer Park Boys. Even more so than shows that have aired on pay TV here in the States, Ishimoto notes those programs will be exposed to U.S. audiences for the first time.