NEW YORK -Once billed as cable's all-entertainment channel, Turner Network Television is now branding itself as the "drama" network and will launch a spring marketing campaign touting theatrical fare and original programming to a more upscale audience.
But during its pre-upfront pitch to reporters here last week, TNT officials seemingly took the dramatic theme too far. The network quickly retracted a proposal that would have placed heart monitors on the wives of National Association for Stock Car Racing (NASCAR) drivers in an attempt to further dramatize the network's coverage of that fast-paced sport.
Meanwhile, TBS Superstation-buoyed by a more extensive Atlanta Braves television deal and several new original movies and series-will continue to target the male demographic, according to network executives.
TNT will roll out an extensive consumer campaign, tagged "TNT: We Know Drama," to reach fans of such fare, executive vice president and general manager Steve Koonin said during the presentation. Along with its current lineup of original, theatrical and sports programming, TNT-which now reaches 81.6 million homes-will add several new original series and movies.
TNT will also continue to offer an extensive sports programming lineup, which includes its $890 million National Basketball Association package and NASCAR racing, which Turner Sports acquired in November 1999. In an effort to drive home the drama and thrills of stock-car race finishes, Koonin suggested that the network was considering placing heart monitors on drivers' wives during its upcoming telecasts, the white flag for which will drop this summer.
But several reporters panned that idea, and Turner officials nixed the proposal several hours later. A spokesman said the concept was brought up internally but was never presented to NASCAR, "and it's something that's not going to happen."
The network will convert the popular original movie Witchblade
into a weekly, Tuesday-night series, beginning on June 5 at 9 p.m.; it will be flanked by the acquired hour-series Law & Order. TNT plans to debut Breaking News-a fast-paced, one-hour drama focused on a 24-hour cable news channel-sometime in 2002, Koonin added.
The news is not so encouraging for fans of Bull,
however. Koonin said the Wall Street-based series, which had generated disappointing ratings, could return to TNT with 11 new shows later this summer if television writers and actors strike. But Turner executives would not commit to the show's return under different circumstances.
Among the TNT original movies set to bow in 2001: Monday Night Mayhem, a behind-the-scenes look at the early years of ABC's Monday Night Football; Call Me Claus, a holiday film produced by Whoopi Goldberg and Garth Brooks; and The Mists of Avalon, a new twist on the Camelot legend.
The TNT branding initiative targets a more family-oriented, upscale and educated 25-54 adult viewer interested in dramatic themes. The network has enjoyed a nearly 50-percent increase in that adult demographic since 1995, and has seen a 27-percent increase in adults 25-54 compared to a year ago, Koonin said.
For its part, TBS Superstation will debut a new one-hour series, Worst-Case Scenario
-based on the best-selling novel The Worst-Case Scenario Survival Handbook, said network executive vice president and general manager Dennis Quinn. The show, produced by Survivor
co-executive producer Craig Piligian, will air on Wednesday nights after the network's popular series Ripley's Believe It or Not.
Quinn also said the network will benefit from a new deal with Major League Baseball that will not only include 92 Atlanta Braves baseball telecasts, but also allow TBS to provide national promotion for Major League Baseball-including live cut-ins to other ongoing games during Braves telecasts.
The move of NASCAR races to TNT from the Superstation also eliminates scheduling conflicts with Braves games. Quinn said TBS' programming enhancements-which also include a number of top theatrical releases and original movies-will help the network continue to make strides in attracting the male 18-49 demographic.
Since the network was rebranded as a "TV Haven for the Regular Guy" last year, TNT has increased its primetime delivery of men 18-49 by 26 percent and its total day delivery in that demographic by 17 percent. It's also increased prime time and total-day viewing of adults 18-49 by 24 percent and 13 percent, respectively.
"We reach more males in primetime than ESPN and deliver more women than Lifetime," Quinn said.
The divergence in the networks' programming paths is Turner's deliberate attempt to differentiate the two services.
"A lot of people look at TBS and TNT as the same network," said Turner Broadcasting System Inc. president Brad Siegel. "But TBS is TV for the regular guy and TNT has established itself as the home for dramatic entertainment."
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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.