Sundance Heeds Fans' Pleas for More

New York — Sundance Channel is opening up its programming palette, developing comedy, limited-series and talk-show projects that will be added to its usual mix of independent films and documentaries in 2006.

At a press gathering here last Monday, executive vice president of programming and marketing Laura Michalchyshyn said Sundance will move toward filling 75% of its lineup with features and documentaries. The rest will consist of original productions, limited series and acquisitions.

She later said the move toward a wider programming swath emanates from focus-group research conducted in four cities last March, where viewers cast a verdict “to broaden our offerings.”

Among the series in development: Culture Shock, a weekly talk-show format that will satirize and critique the media; Addict Nation, a limited documentary series following five people with various addictions; and The Whitest Kids U Know, which traipses between sketch comedy and a mockumentary about five young comedians.

Sundance, now in 23 million homes, also has four feature-length documentaries slotted for 2006, including Came So Far From Beauty, which profiles singer/songwriter Leonard Cohen.

Michalchyshyn also said that Sundance had acquired the rights to pack.strap.swallow, tracking five foreign nationals jailed in Quito, Ecuador, for trying to smuggle drugs out of that country, next year.

There's also plenty on Sundance's plate in the months ahead, notably a new tagline, “For a change,” which begins receiving on-air mentions in September.

That's when the network also will sport a new programming grid, scheduling series and more short-form fare from 7 p.m. to 10 p.m. “Our viewers tell us they don't have time to devote to a two-hour feature earlier in the evening,” she said.

In the meantime, Sundance is busy airing the second season of The Al Franken Show, and will bow the sophomore run of eccentric-movie showcase “Midnight Snack,” hosted by Alan Cumming, on July 1.

The following month Sundance will launch acquisitions Hermitage-niks, an inside look at the famous museum in St. Petersburg, Russia; and Slings & Arrows, a Canadian comedy about the inner workings of a dysfunctional Shakespearean theater festival.

On Aug. 21 at 9 p.m., Sundance will premiere the filmed version of Tim Robbins's play Embedded, a satire about the madness surrounding the brave men and women on the front lines of a Middle Eastern conflict.

That month, Sundance will also shed the first light on what Michalchyshyn calls “classic indie films” from NBC Universal's library. Under the 50-plus title deal, Sundance will present Henry and Joon, The Milagro Beanfield War (directed by Sundance founder Robert Redford) and The Andromeda Strain.

Speaking of acquisitions, Sundance in December will serve up the U.S. premiere of the third season of hit Australian comedy Kath & Kim. Trio has aired the first two campaigns, which will encore on the pay channel next year.

As for originals, Sundance will debut TransGeneration, chronicling the lives of four college students undergoing gender transition, in September; and Iconoclasts, a pairing of notables from different walks of life, in November. In addition to print and radio, these projects will benefit from promos on networks controlled by owners NBC Universal and Viacom Inc.