TruTV to Lighten Up in Primetime

TruTV this week embarks on a new approach that it hopes will make viewers see it as a fun destination, rather than a place where conflict and drama reign.

Sporting a new logo and tagline — “way more fun” — the network is launching 11 new shows over the next two quarters.

Series such as Hair Jacked, in which hair salon customers are lured into a comedic trivia contest, and Fake Off, in which teams compete in the performance-art genre known as “faking,” launch this week, with the aim of drawing new and younger viewers, truTV president and head of programming Chris Linn said.

“We are truly flipping the switch and becoming an all-new channel, and we’re moving toward a much more diverse slate with content that has a more comedic tone,” Linn said.

Since converting from Court TV six years ago, truTV has offered a range of dramatic, investigative and lifestyle-reality fare in primetime. Series developed over that span have included Hard Core Pawn, Storage Hunters, Inside American Jail, Black Gold and Swamp Hunters, along with prank show Impractical Jokers. Some of those have done well, Linn said, but not well enough to establish an identity for the network.

“While truTV has enjoyed significant ratings success with individual shows in the past, it’s never really broken out as a brand,” Linn, who replaced Marc Juris as the network’s chief in May, said. “It has very low awareness compared to the ratings success we’ve had, and part of that is the programming has never really differentiated itself from what others are doing.”

TruTV has also been slumping in the ratings. Its average primetime audience (581,000 viewers) was down 36% in the third quarter, compared with 941,000 viewers during third-quarter 2013. The decline was 34% among adults 18- 49 and women 25-54 compared to the year-ago period, according to Nielsen.

Linn said his hope is that unscripted, “fun” shows will fill a void in the cable-network universe as it exists today.

“So much of what is in the landscape now is heavy drama, and in the unscripted space not much new has happened in the last few years,” he said. “We looked and we saw there was a lot of space where most reality shows are and where Comedy Central is for broadly appealing, comedic innovative programming. We’re trying to be a refreshing oasis in a conflict-driven recycled TV environment.”

Starting today (Oct. 27), the network will launch 11 new series over the next six months, with five to six new show launches per quarter.

Of those shows on truTV’s lineup last year, only two — Impractical Jokers (very much in line with the new “fun” emphasis) and Hardcore Pawn — will return with new episodes.

Along with Hair Jacked and Fake Off, shows debuting this week include How to Be a Grown Up, which provides funny takes on advice shows; Friends of the People, a sketch-comedy series; and The Carbonaro Effect, starring comedian and magician Michael Carbonaro.

Linn also said two scripted comedy series are in the planning stages.

“Scripted is something we want to be very thoughtful about,” he said. “People are quick to jump on the scripted bandwagon, and it’s clear nothing elevates the perception of a network like a successful scripted series, so we’re cognizant of that.”

R. Thomas Umstead

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.