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VH1 Sets New Programming Course

After experimenting with several different formats over the past six months, VH1 last week announced an ambitious programming slate that reaches into pop culture.

Though several music-oriented shows are in development, VH1's new lineup will also focus on other cultural phenomena and personalities as part of a refocusing of the brand.

"The majority of programming is still rooted in music nostalgia," said network president of entertainment Brian Graden. "But there is an increasing component of programming that looks back at the fads from film and TV."

Graden said the ratings strength of last month's multipart documentary I Love the 80's
is a sign that viewers would embrace non-musical elements if packaged in a unique, storytelling format.

"It tonally marked a shift because it included film and television elements, but there wasn't anyone who didn't say that it makes sense for VH1," he said. "We discovered that we had a wide latitude to indulge not only in music, but in pop culture from the last 10 to 15 years."

That was evidently borne out with the January Nielsen Media Research numbers: VH1 boosted its primetime household average 67 percent to a 0.5 rating last month, versus the same period in 2002. Graden said the increase was fueled largely by the performance of I Love the 80's
and other original fare, like freshman series Driven.

Shows on the new programming slate will join several other series and specials launched under Graden over the last six months. Over that span, the volume of original programming on VH1 has jumped to 600 hours from 200 in the first half of 2002.

In all, Graden said the network has given the green light to 120 specials, with 60 in active development.

"We're using specials as our way of trying a lot of things to see what fits naturally on VH1," he said. "If the series connect, some would connote a series or a series of specials."

Among the new shows slated to premiere on VH1 at various times, from next month through the third quarter: Behind the Movies, a classic film take-off of the net's popular Behind the Music
franchise; Destination Diva: The Search for a Superstar, chronicling the network's international talent search; Dashboard Dreams, a one-hour special on the longtime love affair between rock 'n' roll and the car; and Hip-Hop Babylon, which traces the history of hip-hop culture.

The network will also debut several countdown shows, including tallies of the top rap artists, pop culture icons, teen idols and greatest fads.