Cable programming slates heat up for summer

May 7, 2001  •  Post A Comment

As the broadcast season draws to a close, cable networks will claim the long, hot summer all to themselves with a programming lineup that contains a host of new reality shows and original series.

“We don’t treat summer as a down time. We treat it very seriously,” said Charlie Maday, senior vice president of programming for the History Channel.

As broadcast networks grapple with the possibility of actors and writers strikes, cable networks are ready to seize any momentum, and most will be unaffected by a strike since their programming for the year is already in the can.

TNT has planned its production schedule aggressively during the past year to prepare itself for any possible strikes. By June the network will have completed production on all original movies, series and miniseries it plans to air this year and through 2002, said Bob DeBitetto, president of original programming for the network.

Lifetime also has already completed production for most of its scripted shows for the upcoming season.

Some cable networks could hold programming for the fall in the event a writers strike hampers broadcast networks into the fall launch season, suggested Michael Goodman, senior analyst with the Yankee Group.

Still, there will be plenty to watch on cable this summer. “It’s a recurring theme-it’s a great time to be a cable programmer because you have a lot of repeats on the broadcast networks,” he said.

Cable networks may benefit from a strike, said Judy Girard, president of Food Network. “Strikes may help us because other outlets have to go into repeats, and it will drive most people to cable,” she said. A possible drawback is that strikes could cause a burnout in the reality genre overall as broadcasters turn to that category to fill the void, she said.

But cable networks aren’t offering the same type of reality fare that broadcast viewers see, said Dawn Tarnofsky-Ostroff, Lifetime’s executive vice president for entertainment. While reality programming is becoming a prominent theme in all of television, cable approaches the category differently from broadcasters, who offer more game shows and physical challenges, Ms. Tarnofsky-Ostroff said.

“We’re not eating rats or killing pigs. We’re showing real women doing real things,” she said.

And while broadcast networks may be garnering most of the attention with the spate of reality shows on the air, cable has in fact been leading the charge in this area for the past decade, she said, pointing to MTV’s “Real World” as the dawn of the genre.

Here’s a rundown on this summer’s reality series and other new cable launches:

Lifetime’s “Women Docs,” produced by True Entertainment, showcases female physicians at hospitals around the country. “Women Docs” is scheduled to launch in August.

Lifetime is also slated to launch a weekly half-hour daytime magazine-style talk show this summer titled “Lifetime Now.” The show promises light fare and will cover fashion, finance and family issues. The network also plans to introduce a yet-to-be-named weekly half-hour series on women’s health issues this summer.

In August, E! plans to introduce “Celebrity Adventures,” which will feature celebrities embarking on outdoor adventure challenges in exotic locales around the world.

MTV’s “Becoming” is tentatively scheduled to air the week of June 11 and will premiere the first of a series of regular episodes on July 10. It is billed as a documentary show on which fans become their favorite rock stars.

USA’s contribution to the reality craze is the August premiere of the tentatively titled “The Real Cannonball Run 2001,” a coast-to-coast race in which six teams compete for $100,000. The special will air over five nights.

Animal Planet will even get in on the reality act with its “Moorpark 24/7,” a series showcasing the students enrolled in Southern California’s Moorpark College’s Exotic Animal Training and Management Program. It is slated to launch July 27.

That night, the network will also premiere “Animal Precinct,” which follows the efforts of the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals law enforcement unit in New York City that prevents and investigates crimes against animals. In late August, the network’s third new summer series is slated to premiere. “Busted” is a 13-part series looking at the role animals can play in solving crimes.

Hallmark Channel will offer two new series. “The Neverending Story” is based on Michael Ende’s book of the same name and details the adventures of a 12-year-old boy who escapes into the make-believe world of his books. It kicks off with an August two-hour movie, with episodes to begin in September. “Telling Stories With Tomie dePaola” features illustrator and storyteller Tomie dePaola and launches in August.

In June, VH1 will debut “Cover War,” hosted by Paul Shaffer of “Late Show With David Letterman” fame, in which cover bands compete against each other in three rounds. Also in June the network plans to premiere “What’s My 20?” a countdown of the 20 greatest music videos selected by the viewers, who host the show themselves.

On June 6, Turner Classic Movies will feature the world television premiere of Marcel Ophuls’ newly restored two-part World War II documentary “The Sorrow and the Pity.” TCM plans to air its original documentary “The Wizard of Oz Memories” (tentative title) on July 3, which features behind-the-scenes photos, interviews and film clips with people whose lives have been affected by the film.

Later this summer, Food Network taps into the reality genre with its limited series “Cooking School Stories” following the trials and tribulations of six cooking school students.

Food Network has its plate full for the hot months, since the network considers the summer to be the start of its new programming season. “We use it as our fall launch,” said Ms. Girard. The third quarter has historically been the highest rated one for the culinary cable destination, she added.

The network kicks off its summer programming June 1 with the “Iron Chef Weekend,” featuring cooking battles that pit the top chefs from around the world against each other, including the network’s own Bobby Flay.

On July 16, Food Network premieres “Appetite for Adventure,” offering techniques for cooking in the great outdoors after a day of outdoor adventure. That same day, the network will turn its regular “Unwrapped” specials into a weekly series that investigates the secrets behind popular foods and products. Finally, in July “Food Finds” becomes a series strip airing Monday through Thursday nights.

Throughout July and August, Court TV will present original documentaries devoted to a particular theme each week in its nightly 10 p.m. documentary slot. Issues to be addressed are child safety, prisons and wronged men and women. In the latter, the network explores cases that might warrant re-evaluation by law enforcement.

Scripted series also promise to be a large portion of the summer schedule.

HBO’s summer fare includes the launch of two new series. On June 3, HBO will introduce the first of 13 episodes of “Six Feet Under,” an hour-long ensemble show about a Los Angeles family that runs a mortuary. The series is created and executive produced by Alan Ball, who won an Oscar for his “American Beauty” screenplay.

In August, HBO introduces the first of 10 half-hour episodes of “The Mind of the Married Man,” created, produced and starring Mike Binder. In the same vein as the successful “Sex and the City” series, Mr. Binder plays a married Chicago newspaper reporter dealing with life, sex and love.

TNT hopes to build on the success of last summer’s “Bull,” the network’s first original dramatic series, when it launches “Witchblade” starring Yancy Butler. The series is based on the TNT original movie of the same name that aired in August 2000.

The network will rebroadcast the pilot movie, which was based on an edgy comic book by Top Cow Comics, on June 5 and the first of 11 one-hour episodes the following week. “It’s one part gritty cop show and one part fantasy/mythology,” said TNT’
s Mr. DeBitetto.

Fox Family plans to launch in early June its half-hour series “State of Grace,” a dramedy featuring the narration of Academy Award-winning Frances McDormand. As an off-screen narrator, she portrays a 47-year-old journalist who reminisces about her youth in 1960s North Carolina.

In June, WAM! introduces four new series billed for the tween crowd: “Breaker High,” “Wild Kat,” “VOX,” and “Mirror Mirror.”

MTV intends to launch the first of 65 episodes of a daily half-hour youth-oriented soap spoof titled “MTV’s Spyder-Games” on June 4. The network bills the show as the “Scream” of soap operas.

The Sci-Fi Channel plans a July 13 debut of its new original series “Chronicle,” an hour-long dramedy about a tabloid journalist who finds that the outlandish stories printed in the paper are true. The network also intends to move its late-night series, “Crossing Over With John Edward” to prime time, Sundays through Thursdays, beginning June 4.

Cartoon Network offers two new animated series. The half-hour comedy “Time Squad” launches in June and chronicles the misadventures of the Time Cops, who travel back through time to ensure that history unfolds properly. The half-hour adventure series “Samurai Jack” makes its debut in August and tells the story of a wizard searching for a time portal through which he can return to his home in the past.

Showtime will debut two new series in either late July or early August. “Leap Years” is an ensemble show focusing on five multiethnic New Yorkers during three time periods: 1993, 2001 and 2008. “Going to California” features two 20-something men who travel cross-country to find a missing friend.

On June 20, Comedy Central will premiere “Primetime Glick,” a weekly series featuring comedian Martin Short as host of a “faux celebrity” half-hour talk show. The show will be executive-produced by Bernie Brillstein and Mr. Short.

Many networks will air original movies throughout the summer. Beginning in June, USA Network will up the ante with its offering of originals and will air two original movies per month, up from the previous slate of 10 to 12 per year.

Starz! will relaunch its Thursday night action programming franchise to include original movies for the first time in addition to more recent hit action films. The programming block will be called “Thursday Night Rush,” and it launches July 19 with Starz! original movie “The Breed,” a sci-fi noir thriller about a world filled with vampires and humans starring Adrian Paul of “Highlander” fame.

History Channel will turn its attention this summer to original miniseries when it premieres “Vietnam: On the Front Lines,” a four-part look at the war told from a soldier’s perspective, scheduled to run June 4 to 7. From June 18 to 21, the network will air “Hitler’s Holocaust,” an in-depth look at how the holocaust unfolded on a daily basis. From Aug. 21 to 24, the network will present “Gold!,” the story of the precious metal, which will debut in the United States and on affiliates in 60 countries.

The Learning Channel’s new summer fare consists of a series of documentary miniseries. Beginning July 2 TLC plans to premiere the first of six one-hour episodes of “Legal Action,” which covers the daily operations of the San Francisco criminal justice system. On Aug. 2, the network will air the first of five one-hour episodes of what is tentatively titled “Vegas,” a look at the people of Sin City. Finally, Aug. 26 marks the premiere of four one-hour episodes of “The Human Face,” in which actor John Cleese delves into the secrets of … yes, the human face.