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Revamped TNN Adds First Original Series

PASADENA, CALIF. -TNN: The National Network, trying to solidify its new positioning as a "pop entertainment network," this summer will debut its first two original series, officials said last week.

TNN-formerly The Nashville Network-has ordered six episodes each of Small Shots, where filmmakers cast local people in spoofs of popular theatrical films, and Lifegame, which features an improvisational group that acts out the events in the life of an audience member.

At the winter Television Critics Association tour, TNN general manager Diane Robina unveiled plans for the original shows and announced that TNN was revamping its overall schedule starting this week. TNN's sister services, VH1 and MTV: Music Television, also discussed several previously unannounced new series that they will be premiering soon.

Describing TNN's strategy for the assembled TV writers, Robina said the network wants its first original series to help rebrand it as "the first pop entertainment network." It plans to do that by showcasing and celebrating the lives of real people, and that's what Small Shots
and Lifegame
plan to do.

"Our development slate of pilots and our original series will hopefully reflect the pop-culture positioning of TNN," Robina said.

At the TCA, the comedy writing team-filmmakers Chris Cox and Matt Sloan both appeared to discuss Small Shots. A clip from the show's pilot, which was shot in Whittier, Calif., was shown. In it, a retired teacher, a postal worker and a student become characters in a parody of Gladiator. The film parodies are only two-and-a-half to three minutes long.

The second new TNN original series, Lifegame, is an adaptation of a British theatrical performance that ran Off-Broadway last September. An audience member is brought on stage to narrate his or her story while an improv group acts out the events.

In addition to those shows, TNN now has 25 to 30 original series in development. Some of the pilots now in the works are: Conspiracy, in which a panel of experts discusses the facts surrounding alleged conspiracies from the Kennedy assassination to Princess Diana's death; 15 Minutes of Fame, a one-hour documentary series on people who had a brief period of national recognition and the impact on their lives; Pop Across America, a talk show that travels around the country on a flatbed truck driven by Survivor
truck driver Susan Hawk; Adventure Chef, a cooking show shot live in the wilderness; and Stinkin' Rich, a game show that tests contestants' knowledge of the lives of the rich and famous.

TNN plans to introduce original movies to its schedule in 2002, and scripted series in 2003, according to Robina. By 2005, the goal is for 50 percent of TNN's programming to be original.

To strengthen its position among 18- to 49-year-olds, TNN this week revamps its schedule, Robina said at the TCA.

The changes include adding off-network show such as The Rockford Files, Picket Fences, Miami Vice, Newhart
and The Wonder Years, with TNN stripping most of those shows during the day.

Also, TNN, which just acquired 43 movies from Paramount, will add a daytime movie from 4 p.m. to 6 p.m., and 9 p.m. movies on Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays.

VH1, continuing to increase its original programming and expand beyond the documentary genre, is moving ahead with four new series.

"In order to grow VH1, we would have to move away from documentary-style programs," said Jeff Gaspin, VH1's executive vice president of programming. "While we have had tremendous success embracing rock history, we need to provide other program genres to keep our audience growing. Our development of new shows has also been expanding in order to fuse music with such established television genres as game shows, realities, animation, drama and sitcoms."

VH1's new offerings include a scripted drama called Signs of Life, a weekly half-hour show that follows the fortunes of a struggling rock group of that same name and its quest for stardom. It will debut this summer, according to Gaspin.

VH1's new reality-based series, Bands on the Run, follows three unsigned rock bands as they compete in a 13-week road trip to win a cash prize of $50,000. The channel's other two new series include its first animated comedy, Animal Trax, a parody of the music industry set in the animal world and the game show Name that Video, a daily series that will test players' ability to identify videos, their artists and lyrics. It debuts March 1.

It was MTV's presentation, however, that caused the biggest stir last Wednesday. MTV officials rolled out a huge 20th
birthday cake for the network, and comedian Andy Dick popped out-clad only in a combination thong-jock strap.

Dick is doing a new series for MTV called The Andy Dick Show, featuring the comedic actor in sketches, vignettes and short films and music-video parodies. The show is slated to premiere Feb. 27, with MTV

ordering six episodes.

MTV president of programming Brian Graden also said that he has greenlit two original movies, Carmen: A Hip Hopera
and Spring Break Lawyer. Carmen, a hip-hop retelling of the classic opera, will be directed by Robert Townsend, and will star Beyonce Knowles of Destiny's Child and actor Mekhi Phifer.