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TruTV’s NewActuality: First Solo Upfront

Upfront Central: Complete Upfront Coverage from B&C
Like its most recognizable star—erstwhile Minnesota Governor Jesse Ventura—TruTV is enjoying a new lease on life. Some 2½ years after its rebrand from Court TV, the network is coming off its highest-rated quarter in key demos (adults and men 18-34 and 18-49), and year-to-year it jumped six spots on ad-supported cable’s ranker of top 10 nets in the primetime 18-49 demo. And it shed five years in viewer median age, down to a spry 46.

On April 27, TruTV will roll out its new programming slate for buyers and the media, marking its first standalone upfront. “Everyone felt we’re strong enough and big enough to stand on our own,” says Marc Juris, the network’s executive VP and general manager. (Previously, TruTV presented with sister networks TNT and TBS.) “We felt it was important to make a statement that we are a successful, robust network.”

The presentation will include a second-season pickup of Ventura’s Conspiracy Theory and a new multimedia spinoff, Conspiracy Theory Challenge. The spinoff follows an episode that centers on Plum Island, which sits off the coast of Long Island and houses a research facility for animal diseases. The multiplatform challenge follows a new theory where contestants help Ventura unravel the “conspiracy” via clues on-air, online, on mobile and on social media. There is a $25,000 prize.

Juris is hopeful that the initiative will reap a big return from sponsors. “It’s about using all of these platforms in a meaningful way,” he says.

All in all, TruTV is bringing back 13 series, including The Smoking Gun, It Only Hurts When I Laugh, All Worked Up and the reenactment docudrama Operation Repo. And Black Gold has been renewed for a third season, with beverage giant MillerCoors re-upping as a sponsor. The show features Texas oil rig workers who like to unwind with a cold one.

The network is also developing the Jersey Shore knockoff Wicked Summah. In 2011, it will get NCAA men’s basketball as part of a $10.8 billion, 14-year deal with the NCAA, CBS Sports and Turner.

At its upfront, TruTV will roll out what it hopes will be another breakout hit. America’s Toughest Boss features Uncle Jack’s Steakhouse owner Willie Degel, a pugnacious restaurateur who has no patience for slackers at his pricey beef emporiums.

“You’ve got to have great characters,” Juris says. “But that’s only one element. You need conflict, comic relief, relatability.”

Juris is looking for a sustainable model— a network with a point of view that crosses demographic lines. His charter has been to build the network with psychographic, rather than demographic, targets in mind. In fact, much of TruTV’s growth has come among women 18-34.

Juris hopes that the advertising community will realize what the network’s viewers already have. “[Our] success is not by virtue of an accidental hit show,” he points out. “Fourteen of our 21 primetime hours have double-digit growth. It’s about our entire programming lineup. The viewers know it. But we don’t see Madison Avenue understanding how quick and how strong our growth has been. And we thought it was important to bring attention to that fact.”