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Tennis Channel Lobs Up Initial Tourney Slate

A slew of early-round international and domestic tournaments, classic matches and a daily news show will highlight the upstart Tennis Channel's initial programming slate.

The network, which is expected to launch in third-quarter 2002, will offer more than 1,000 hours of U.S. tournament coverage, as well as a reality series and tennis instructional shows as part of its original programming lineup, Tennis Channel president and founder Steve Bellamy said.

Former Home Box Office executive David Meister is also spearheading Tennis's gambit to jump into the digital-cable arena. The network also has support from an investment group headed by former Viacom Inc. bigwigs, including ex-CEO Frank Biondi.

The Tennis Channel has held discussions with cable and satellite distributors, but has no carriage commitments at this point, Bellamy said. Officials declined to discuss the service's rate card.

Overall, 40 percent of the network's first programming serve will consist of tournament play, with another 40 percent made up of instructional programming and 20 percent consisting of news and information shows.

The Tennis Channel's initial slate will include coverage of such Association of Tennis Professionals tournaments as the International Championships in Del Ray, Fla., and the Hall of Fame Championships in Newport, R.I.

The Women's Tennis Association events on tap are the Acura Classic from La Costa, Calif. and the Bank of the West Classic from Stanford, Calif., Bellamy said. The network will also feature Senior Men's Tour Events from Naples, Fl, Richmond, Va. and San Francisco, Calif.

Bellamy said the channel would offer mostly early-round coverage of the tournaments, which could yield as much as 12 hours of programming a day, per event.

Interspersed between tournament coverage will be the network's Tennis News Daily
reports. Complete with player interviews, up-to-date tournament results, rankings, the latest earnings and previews of up-and-coming players, the show will serve as the network's staple news and information destination.

The show will also run during primetime each night. "We don't always know how long a tournament will go, so we will have the ability to move back and forth to the news desk," Bellamy said.

During non-tournament hours and weekends, the network will offer vintage tennis matches featuring some of the game's legends, including Jimmy Connors, John McEnroe, Bjorn Borg, Billie Jean King and Martina Navratilova, Bellamy said.

Other original shows include The Player's Lounge,
an interview and talk show in which the top tennis pros will discuss everything from technique and training to strategy, as well as field calls from viewers; Beyond the Lines,
in which viewers join players to experience their off-the-court regimens; and Gearheads,
an equipment show about the latest in rackets, shoes, strings and accessories.

A fourth show, Destination Tennis
— which provides viewers with the best travel packages and the best places to play — is also scheduled to debut next year, Bellamy said.

R. Thomas Umstead serves as senior content producer, programming for Multichannel News, Broadcasting + Cable and Next TV. During his more than 30-year career as a print and online journalist, Umstead has written articles on a variety of subjects ranging from TV technology, marketing and sports production to content distribution and development. He has provided expert commentary on television issues and trends for such TV, print, radio and streaming outlets as Fox News, CNBC, the Today show, USA Today, The New York Times and National Public Radio. Umstead has also filmed, produced and edited more than 100 original video interviews, profiles and news reports featuring key cable television executives as well as entertainers and celebrity personalities.