G4 Going 'Underground' For Newsmagazine

Newsmagazines may not draw big numbers on the broadcast networks anymore, but Comcast's young-male-focused cable network, G4, is betting that the format still has legs. The network has given a 12-episode order to G4 Underground, a newsmagazine that will explore issues of interest to the male 18-34 demo the network targets.

“It won't be nearly as mainstream as something like 60 Minutes,” says G4 President Neal Tiles. “It is a cross between 60 Minutes and some of the other newsmagazine shows, but specifically geared toward the digital generation.”

Among the segments lined up for the series are profiles of people such as video-game pioneer turned space tourist Richard Garriott; real-life “superheroes,” about real people who dress up in costumes and try to help their neighborhoods; and a look at the pornography industry, detailing how new technologies it helped pioneer now threaten its very existence. “We think there is an underserved audience in terms of topics that other networks wouldn't really venture to,” Tiles says.

Esoteric subjects such as the ones on tap at G4 have a track record of drawing viewers to newsmagazines and documentaries on other networks. In January, CNBC drew its best numbers ever in both total and demo viewers with Marijuana Inc., a documentary about the business of pot. Likewise, an ABC 20/20 special report last month that saw Diane Sawyer exploring child poverty in Appalachia drew that series' highest ratings since 2004.

Each of the half-hour episodes of G4 Underground will explore two topics, presented in the first person with in-depth interviews. G4 has tapped Morgan Webb, host of its signature video-game series X-Play, to host the series, which will premiere on the network March 29 at 9 p.m.

The pickup comes in the midst of a shift in programming strategy for the cable network. G4 had been stripping new episodes of X-Play and daily tech/pop culture series Attack of the Show weekday evenings. Last month, the network said it would cut back the number of weekly editions of X-Play to three, and AOTS to four. Now the network plans to take the money saved from those shows and use it to develop more original programming.

“We've been seeking to do what we think is best for the business in the immediate term, as well as what is best for the business in the longer term,” Tiles says. “The cutting back on the strips was meant to free up funds so that we could do other projects such as [G4 Underground]; it wasn't a function to try to save money because of the economy, or a soft ad market.”