TV Land, Nick at Nite Plan Original Series

Cable's home for reruns, TV Land and Nick at Nite are trying something new. It's called "something new." Looking to add fresh programming to enliven their stable of classics, the channels aim to introduce a sprinkling of original scripted and non-scripted shows beginning next year.

Larry Jones, executive vice president and general manager of the two channels, says originals will help refresh the nets and reintroduce them to casual viewers. "In a highly competitive world, how do you stand out? One way is with originals."

Headlining Nick at Nite's original slate is Fatherhood, an animated family show based on Bill Cosby's book. The 13-episode series is set to debut on Father's Day.

Jones is hunting for a half-hour companion series to run with it. Among ideas in development are Zen & Buster, an animated show about dogs in Hollywood from Kelsey Grammer's production company, and sitcom Return Engagement, about a group of fictional retired actors living in the same apartment building.

On Nick at Nite, which takes over from kids net Nickelodeon after 9 p.m. ET, plans call for one hour of originals from 9 to 10 p.m. Jones envisions that it will, at first, be an hour one night per week and eventually expand to other nights.

TV Land is already dabbling in originals, with occasional specials like its TV Land Awards.
It is collaborating with CBS News on six-part documentary series TV Land Moguls, about famous Hollywood producers, for April. Shows in development sound a little more irreverent: Hello Out There, a comedy about a classic-TV network, and TV Land Real Characters, a mock Biography-type show about famous TV characters. "We're really making shows about TV shows," says Jones.

Both Nick at Nite and TV Land are already on solid ratings ground. The former (including the highly rated 8 p.m. hour of Nickelodeon programming) is averaging a 1.7 household rating in prime with about 2 million viewers, on par with the previous year. TV Land is pacing at a 0.7 average in prime for 2003 and 768,000 viewers. Ratings are off slightly from a year ago.

Yet the two are the latest cable networks to add originals with visions of new viewers and—just maybe—a big cable hit.

Horizon Media research chief Brad Adgate likens Nick and TV Land's efforts to ESPN's adding original scripted drama Playmakers. "It is an effort to maintain their brand against an extremely competitive environment. You want to keep your core and build upon it with a little twist."

Thanks to the channels' Viacom parentage, he notes, shows from Nick at Nite and TV Land could be broadly promoted across other MTV Networks, CBS and Viacom's radio properties.

Jones stresses that neither Nick at Nite nor TV Land is changing too much of its classic programming. "We are committed to our agenda and will continue to acquire shows that are appropriate to the brands."

But he acknowledges that the plan is a long time coming. In recent years, both networks have been gradually allocating funds for originals, so new productions won't come at the expense of acquisitions. "We have the platform, the distribution, the ratings. We should try this."