A Wealth of Options

In 2006, cable continued to solidify its reputation as a place for “edgier fare” and a nurturing environment for originals, an antidote to broadcast TV, where expensive laggards are quickly shuffled off to hiatus.

As the cable networks move into 2007 and look to build on breakout successes, star talent and interesting options abound, along with some hard decisions about what to greenlight.

“A couple of years ago, we had to convince people cable was a viable place to bring a series,” says Michael Wright, senior VP, original programming, for TNT/TBS. “In some ways, cable is a better place. We make an earnest effort to really support a show and give talent an environment where they want to work and play.”

Top female leads appear to be the most courted set for strong roles in the coming year. TNT is working on Grace, a pilot with Holly Hunter as an Oklahoma City detective whose sister was killed in the 1995 bombing; and Lifetime has ensemble drama Army Wives slated for March, starring Kim Delaney and Catherine Bell.

Next summer, USA will run limited series The Starter Wife, with Debra Messing, and could greenlight To Love and Die in L.A., a pilot with Shiri Appleby as a woman who discovers her father is a contract killer. And FX in January offers the new Courtney Cox gossip-mag drama Dirt; also in development is a pilot with Glenn Close as a New York litigator who mentors a younger lawyer.

“It's amazing to me, given where we were a few years ago: We can now field a group of talent that could rival any [broadcast] network in television,” says FX Network President John Landgraf. The network has also set a first-quarter premiere for The Riches, a drama starring Minnie Driver and Eddie Izzard as a married pair of con artists.

The pay-cable networks will, as usual, lead the 2007 charge into boundary-pushing fare. HBO is working on David Milch's dark surf series John From Cincinnati and Gavin Polone's adult-themed relationship drama Tell Me You Love Me.

Meanwhile, Showtime is developing Darren Starr's Manchild, addiction-focused Insatiable, and David Duchovny's producer/star effort Californication, about a women-obsessed, self-destructive writer.

With the bigger entertainment networks having tested the waters for several seasons, 2007 will bring original scripted shows from new players. In the summer, AMC will debut its first original drama series, 1960s-set advertising drama Mad Men. The channel is also set to play way against type with Breaking Bad, a pilot about a terminally ill teacher who deals meth to support his family.

As A&E debuts its pricey acquired version of The Sopranos in January, it's seeking both a limited series and an original drama for 2008. Executives are looking at several self-contained choices as companions for both Sopranos and CSI: Miami.

Says A&E Executive VP/General Manager Bob DeBitetto, “A light musical dramedy romp is not a format we're going to be doing.”

Other networks are content to keep things lighter. Bonnie Hammer, president of USA and Sci Fi Channel, says USA will be doing just that, possibly greenlighting Burn Notice, which focuses on a blacklisted Special Ops agent. Sci Fi Channel, meanwhile, will develop shows in a more “earth-based” vein.

“Nothing is dark or dysfunctional,” Hammer says. “The whole [USA] brand is looking to do interesting character-driven drama with a little twist of escapism.”

TNT, the “We Know Drama” network, is developing pilots on a heart-transplant surgeon (Heartland) and a police drama that moves in reverse time (The Line-Up).

Meanwhile, corporate sibling TBS heads a list of networks targeting the funny bone. It will pump its money into developing both scripted and unscripted comedies for prime and late night.

And Comedy Central plans a slate of at least five new primetime series: January's The Naked Trucker & T-Bones Show, February's Sarah Silverman-scripted series, and improv shows Halfway Home, American Body Shop and Lil' Bush. The network's success with The Colbert Report allows the aggressive plans.

Colbert has been nothing short of a gift to us in so many terms,” says Executive VP, Original Programming and Development, Lauren Corrao. “It's allowed us to focus our development on what we consider to be our prime, from 10 to 11 p.m.”