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Is Trio's Time Running Out?

With NBC's takeover of Vivendi Universal Entertainment just days away from completion, the fate of VUE's cutting-edge Trio network is in question.

From a programming standpoint, the pop-culture network, while seen in only 20 million homes, has become such a critics' darling under the direction of Trio's President Lauren Zalaznick, it has propelled her to a bigger job in the merged company. She is expected to be named head of NBC's Bravo network. That's expected to happen when the VUE deal closes Wednesday May 12.

Ironically, though, the future of the network she has lead is in doubt, according to executives at both companies.

Prospects for Trio in its current format are so slim that NBC execs are talking about scrapping its programming model for a new format. (One idea bandied about is turning it into a gay-oriented network.)

Another scenario has NBC putting Trio up for sale. Just last week, Universal shed itself of another marginal cable network, NewsWorld International, selling it to a consortium led by former Vice President Al Gore for a reported $70 million (see In the Loop, page 8)

There has even been discussion that NBC may simply shut the network down because expanding reach may detract from other NBC's cable initiatives. Most of Trio's distribution is via DirecTV and that deal is about to expire. NBC executives have several high priorities in cable, particularly securing rate increases for USA Network and Sci Fi Channel. Keeping Trio alive may end up not being worth the effort.

NBC would not comment.

Trio was envisioned as taking a hip approach to popular culture, treating film, TV, and music less seriously than PBS but more seriously than E!

Handicapped by small distribution and a minuscule, $20 million programming budget, Zalaznick programmed Trio essentially by aiming to please 100 or so TV writers around the country. Her most creative gambit was a series woven from failed TV shows dubbed Brilliant, But Cancelled.

Sadly, that could end up being Trio's epitaph.