By Mike Reynolds
CMT, while keeping to its country core, is diversifying its programming slate with new genre entries, a key off-network acquisition and walking its boots into a new daypart, late-night.
The Viacom-owned network — now part of the Kids & Family Group under the watch of Cyma Zarghami – revealed the slate to advertisers on April 2 during its upfront presentation at the TimesCenter in Manhattan.
Come June 11, CMT will push into the late-night arena with topical original series “The Josh Wolf Show.” The skein, from executive producer Chelsea Handler, will feature Wolf, who took his turns guest-hosting the comedienne’s former late-night show on E!, leading panel discussions, interviews and sketch bits with stars from the realms of country, Tinseltown and beyond. The show will run Wednesday through Saturday, giving CMT weekend presence in the daypart.
The off-network acquisition is cult favorite “Friday Night Lights,” the NBC and DirecTV-backed series transmogrified from the book and film, which CMT is adding to its lineup in May.
The comedy, “Still The King,” stars Billy Ray Cyrus, Miley’s dad, as Vernon Brown, a one-hit wonder booted from the country scene who emerges 20 years later as the second-best Elvis impersonator in Laughlin, Nev. But ‘Burnin’ Vernon’s driving wasn’t so good after he had a few and crashed into an old church of Nashville, where he’s sentenced to perform community service. Instead, he pretends to be the flock’s new minister and discovers he has a 15-year-old daughter. Talk about potential for an “Achy Breaky Heart.”
CMT is also taking the roads back to NASCAR’s running moonshine roots before it became the multibillion-dollar property on the sports landscape today. Limited series “American Speed: The True Story of NASCAR” is an in-depth tale of that transformation, narrated by two-time Daytona 500 winner and racing royalty Dale Earnhardt Jr.
Jayson Dinsmore, executive vice president, development for CMT, said after the presentation that the network was still considering whether to bow the projects in the fourth quarter. However, he was leaning toward a game plan that pushed into early in 2016 to stay away from football’s Q4 hold on a large portion of the American populace.
In fact, CMT is eyeing a starting flag for “American Speed” near the 2016 Daytona 500, looking to draft off the buzz revved by the Great American Race.
Kellie Pickler, of “American Idol” and “Dancing with the Stars” fame, will bring her southern charm, fun personality and witticisms to CMT, alongside hubby/artist Kyle Jacobs. Produced by Ryan Seacrest, docuseries “I Love Kellie Pickler” is slated to debut on Sept. 18.
Other new shows: “Gainesville,” the docuseries following a tight-knit group of friends in smalltown Florida as they look to transition into adulthood (premieres May 14); “The Ed Bassmaster Show,” featuring the YouTube sensation showcasing an array of characters, is set for June 17.
Also on tap: new seasons of Steve Austin’s “Broken Skull Challenge” and “Party Down South.”
Those among the crowd expecting demonstrations of tippling and titillation from the latter’s cast were disappointed by their absence. CMT president Brian Phillips , though, generated some chuckles when he responded to an audience member’s recognition of the show by saying “thanks, they’ll appreciate it, wherever they are…sobering up.”
CMT’s hour-long presentation also touted long-running musical mash-up series, “Crossroads,” the “2015 Country Music Awards” and “CMT Artists of the Year” spectacle, plus eight new concerts, beginning next January.
That will also be the month when the network kicks off its second “CMT Championship Kickoff Party,” an officially sanctioned concert flanking the College Football Playoff national championship game.
The author of this piece, Mike Reynolds, is a veteran media and sports reporter and was most recently the news editor at Multichannel News. You can reach him at email@example.com or 914-320-6532. We appreciate Mike making this piece available to TVWeek.