TNT's Big Play

Building on the success of its signature hit The Closer, TNT is expanding its program lineup to include three solid nights a week of scripted and unscripted original fare by 2010, officials said last week.

In pursuit of that goal — an all-original primetime from Monday through Wednesday — TNT unveiled a development slate of 14 series. Two of them — Raising the Bar, from producer Steven Bochco, and Leverage — have already been given the green light and are slated to debut later this year.

TNT's roster includes projects from marquee Hollywood talent such as Robert Redford, Ridley Scott, Mark Burnett and Mark Wolper. In addition to scripted shows, the network that uses the slogan “We Know Drama” is also developing six unscripted series.

“We were pursuing this [nonfiction] long before the [Writers Guild of America] strike,” said Michael Wright, senior vice president in charge of the Content Creation Group for TNT, TBS and TCM. “The fact is, it's become a very popular form of storytelling. … The task for us is to do it in a way that is consistent with our brand.”

Last week Turner Broadcasting System — whose stable includes not only TNT, but TBS and truTV — also unveiled plans to hold its upfront presentation during the same week as the broadcast networks for the first time ever. The three Turner networks will present their new programming slates May 14.

But TNT's strategy — to schedule three nights of original programming — is the most ambitious.

“It's going to be a combination of scripted and unscripted,” Wright said. “Any given night of the week, some will be premieres and some will be encores. It will not necessarily be three nights a week, three hours a night, of all first-run programming.”

TNT will continue to air National Basketball Association games on Thursday nights, while theatricals will fill Fridays and weekends.

Wright credited TNT's success with The Closer, cable's top-rated series of all time, and with Saving Grace, for raising the network's stature in the Hollywood creative community, generating a flood of projects.

“We've gone from a shop where we had to literally go around town, hat in hand, asking studios and agents to please take us seriously, to now I don't think it's a boast to say people are excited to come work here,” Wright said. “The very highest end of the business – show runners, directors, actors, studios and agents — take us very seriously.”

Raising the Bar is a show about lawyers that will premiere in the late summer, while Leverage, starring Timothy Hutton as a modern-day Robin Hood, is slated to bow in the fourth quarter. TNT is also developing Generations, a drama from executive producer Redford and writer/executive director John Sacret Young.

On the unscripted front, TNT is looking at shows that involve crime and punishment and mystery solving; aspirational reality shows; and programs that depict interesting people and places.

For example, reality-TV king Burnett's Wedding Day involves making a bride's wedding dreams come true. And The Greatest Show on Earth has viewers travel on the mile-long train that transports the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus.

TBS's plans include ordering two late-night pilots — including an updated version of Match Game — as well as having three other late-night shows in development.

“We see late-night as a real growth opportunity,” Wright said.

While he said Comedy Central and MTV have “sort of cornered the market” on “snarky” shows aimed at young men, TBS is looking to offer “feel-good” comedy for the late-20s, date-night movie audience.