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Turner Spreads the Wealth

Turner Broadcasting unleashed a blizzard of talent at its upfront presentation last week, making a play for the notion that it's ready to compete with broadcast networks in terms of creative output—and ad dollars. Presentations came from TNT, TBS and newer entry TruTV.

The company said it would launch its new George Lopez TBS talk show in November; TNT drama Men of a Certain Age, starring Ray Romano, in December; and TBS animated series Neighbors From Hell, from Jeffrey Katzenberg, in early 2010.

“Five years ago, original series were the last stronghold of broadcast,” said Steve Koonin, president of Turner Entertainment Networks. “That foothold has crumbled underneath them.”

While broadcasters frequently earmark a particular show for the majority of marketing dollars, Koonin refused to detail the company's investment, indicating that Turner had enough money to lavish on all of its productions. That said, there will have to be a lot to go around.

Among the projects for TNT is an untitled alien invasion series backed by Steven Spielberg, featuring a group of everyday heroes who must fight both to survive and keep their humanity. There are also dramas from Steven Bochco (working title is Class Action, about a down-on-his-luck lawyer), Jerry Bruckheimer (Dark Blue, about undercover cops in Los Angeles) and the husband-and-wife team of Kyra Sedgwick and Kevin Bacon (working title Zapata, Texas, about a new sheriff in a small border town). Unscripted entries include a series about The Mayo Clinic, and the feel-good project Trip of a Lifetime.

In addition to the Lopez late-night entry, TBS is developing the half-hour sitcom The Game of Life from King of Queens star Kevin James.

At TruTV, where the mantra is “Not Reality. Actuality,” new programs will include NFL Full Contact (working title), offering up some grid irony in behind-the-scenes looks at pro football; and Conspiracy Theory With Jesse Ventura, with the ex-grappler/ex-governor turning his attention to conspiracies.

NFL Full Contact, to be produced in conjunction with NFL Films, may represent Turner's attempt to play up an interest in NFL rights. But David Levy, the network's president of ad sales, distribution and sports, told B&C that the NFL is extending deals with existing partners and there won't be an opportunity until 2013, making the notion premature.

But Turner believes it's now poised to try to beat the broadcast networks at their own game. Jay Leno may have stolen the headlines, but George Lopez already has a commitment from President Obama to appear on his late-night show.

The comedian is keen to be a voice for the underserved Hispanic audience. “It's very pasty-white,” Lopez observed of the late-night arena. During his set at the upfront, Lopez joked that his show was going to be so good, “Latinos will want to pay for cable.”