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Networks Chockablock With Summer Stock

Why This Matters: As networks focus on year-round programming, the summer months are a chance to win new viewers.

While a number of networks are loading up on fresh summer programming, thinking the sultry time of year gives their originals a fair chance to shine, Reelz puts most to shame. By the network’s count, it is increasing its summer originals output by 62% compared to last summer. With a focus on celebrities and crime, that includes a half-dozen documentary specials, new series Sex, Lies & Murder and returning entry Collision Course.

Stan E. Hubbard, CEO of Reelz, said the network’s unique ownership setup — it’s part of Hubbard Media Group — is a major factor in its drive to take summers by storm. “As one of a handful of independent networks,” he said, “we keep chiseling away to make ourselves stand out, to set ourselves apart.”

Heating Up

While they may not be independent, and may not match Reelz’s tonnage of summer stock, several networks are heavying up on originals for the summer. That includes Oxygen, which has 10 new series, including Buried in the Back Yard, and six returning series, compared to four new and four returning last summer; Food Network and Cooking Channel, with a combined 11 new series and 10 returning ones, compared to five new and nine returning last summer; and Epix, which has a pair of new series and one returning show, compared to just one original series in summer 2017.

CBS said it has 128 hours of original summer stuff, versus 87 last summer.

Part of MGM, Epix sees the summer as the first step toward the network having year-round original shows, defined by at least one series airing at any point in the year. It begins with the drama Deep State, about a former spy who finds himself in a covert intelligence war, which premieres June 17, and continues with Get Shorty, which premieres season two August 12. Also to debut is boxing series The Contender.

“It’s our intention to have original content on-air 52 weeks a year,” said Michael Wright, Epix president, vowing a “huge ramp-up” in 2019.

Epix’s ambitious plans come on the heels of a distribution deal with Comcast starting June 13.

For Oxygen, last summer saw the network still in the thick of a true-crime rebrand. This summer, Oxygen is further along, rolling out new programs such as In Defense Of June 25, under the “Cruel Summer” banner.

“The idea from this point on is, ramp up more and more hours,” Jerry Leo, executive VP of program strategy, lifestyle networks, at parent NBCUniversal Cable Entertainment, said.

For Food Network, the new shows include Reality Cupcakes and Let’s Eat, and the returning ones airing this summer include Worst Cooks in America. At Discovery Inc. sister Cooking Channel, there’s a new series called Carnival Kings, and a returning one called Southern and Hungry.

Summer Vacation

Traditionally, the broadcast networks would, as one broadcast veteran put it, “hang up the Gone Fishing sign” this time of year. That led the cable networks to hustle to air their original series when fewer eyes were watching broadcast. As streaming players such as Netflix, Amazon and Hulu have emerged, launching series throughout the year, many networks are executing their long-discussed year-round programming plans.

Every network is hungry to be among the finite number of channels a viewer watches. Airing reruns throughout the summer runs the risk of them dropping off the preferred list.

“TV is all about habits,” said Walter Podrazik, who teaches television at the University of Illinois at Chicago’s Department of Communication, and is coauthor of Watching TV. “If you break viewers’ habits in terms of their I-wonder-what’s-on search, it means you have to win them back.”

No network can afford to take the summer off anymore, Podrazik added. “You have to constantly repeat to the audience, ‘Hey — we have something you want to see,’ ” he said. “If you have nothing extraordinary for three months, you’re writing off the audience. You just can’t do that anymore.”

Among Reelz’s new summer shows, Breaking the Band, offering peeks at how the Beatles, the Eagles and Fleetwood Mac broke up, has the best chance to bust out, Hubbard said.

As much as he’d like to spend the dog days sitting on a beach with a cold drink in hand as repeats pump out of Reelz headquarters, that won’t be happening any time soon. Said Hubbard, “We don’t have the luxury of taking the summer off.”