Summer is the season for cable networks to embark on their annual attempts to lure viewers away from the beach, the vacation and broadcast reruns. This year, they’ll do that with a steady dose of reality shows, some scripted series and several specials-turned-series.
“Four years ago, reality was `When Animals Attack,”’ said Mindy Herman, CEO, E! Networks. “It’s evolved to `Survivor’ and `The Osbournes.”’ The success of such shows has proven that reality is as much of a mainstay as comedy and drama, she said. “If you do a quality piece of work and it’s compelling, it doesn’t matter what genre you’re in, but if it’s derivative, me-too, then there’s a glut,” she said.
E!, WE, History Channel and even the Disney Channel are among the cablers offering new reality series. Viewers can also see new scripted series when USA, Lifetime, Showtime, HBO and others premiere such fare this summer.
It’s typical for cable to garner viewer and critic attention during the summer, said Brad Siegel, president, Turner Entertainment Networks. That may be the reason broadcasters are proffering more new shows this summer than ever before. “Broadcast has seen the success cable has had, so they are doing more innovative small things to launch in the summer to try to stay in the game,” he said.
This summer’s broadcast schedule is especially aggressive, with Fox having debuted reality series “Bachelorettes in Alaska” and planning to debut “American Idol,” and with NBC bringing back new episodes of “Spy TV.” But programmers on the cable side aren’t all that worried about broadcasters’ impact.
“Every summer there have been claims that broadcast networks will float new shows. We’ll see what they put on,” said Allen Sabinson, senior VP of programming at A&E.
Here’s a rundown of what cable networks have planned.
E! plans to launch its answer to “The Osbournes” in August with the premiere of “The Anna Nicole Smith Show,” a reality series about the life of the former Playboy Playmate. That month, the network also plans to launch “Royalty A-Z,” on pop culture royalty.
As part of its current rebranding campaign “Join the Investigation,” Court TV has slated three new series for summer premieres. “Dominick Dunne’s Power, Privilege and Justice” debuts June 19 and presents recent stories on the tangles the wealthy and powerful have had with the law. On July 9, the network launches “The Elite,” which will showcase the work of men and women at the nation’s top law enforcement agencies.
While “The Elite” is a reality show, it is not “contrived reality” like “Survivor” or “The Bachelor” but is more in the style of cinema verite, said Art Bell, executive VP of programming and marketing at the network.
On Sept. 4, Court TV plans to launch “I, Detective,” which will test viewer knowledge in solving crimes.
The History Channel will add two originals to the two it launched in early June, “Secret Passages” and “Secrets of the Ancient World.” In August, the programmer will fire off “Basic Training,” a reality series that follows six recruits through basic training, and “Mail Call,” a show that answers viewers’ questions about military history. “Mail Call” is the network’s riskiest show, since the format relies on viewer input, said Charlie Maday, senior VP of programming for the History Channel. “You will see more [networks] hunting around for concepts that are a little different,” he said.
Sister network A&E was scheduled to launch “Cold Case Files,” an offshoot of “Investigative Reports,” on June 4. It will examine forensic detection. On June 10, the network will catapult “Minute by Minute” from special to series. The show retells extraordinary events, such as the first episode, in which Dr. Jerri Nielsen recounts the experience of treating her breast cancer herself while she was stranded at the South Pole.
On July 9, A&E presents “Dream Chasers,” in which the network helps ordinary people fulfill their dreams.
TNN continues its push to capture young adults with its two new series. “Slamball” launches Aug. 3 and features a new team sport played on a spring-loaded court with trampolines built around the baskets. “Oblivious,” a game show that contestants don’t know they are playing, debuts Aug. 18. The host, in disguise, asks the contestants trivia questions while they are in ordinary situations, such as on the street or in a salon.
MTV will air a number of “Osbournes” specials during the summer.
On June 16, USA Network will unveil “The Dead Zone,” based on characters from the Stephen King novel of the same name, and on July 12 will debut “Monk,” about an obsessive-compulsive detective.
Lifetime has slated “For the People” for a July 21 premiere. The series centers on the dynamics between a liberal deputy district attorney and her conservative boss.
HBO already uncoiled “The Wire” on June 2. The police drama series follows a single investigation throughout the season. On July 21 HBO will air the first of eight episodes of “Sex and the City.” The season has been abridged due to star Sarah Jessica Parker’s pregnancy.
Viewers looking for a “Sex and the City” fix can take heart with WE’s July 7 introduction of “Single in the City,” which tracks the dating adventures of 11 single women in New York City. On June 3, the network was scheduled to introduce “Third Date,” a behind-the-scenes look at the third dates of real couples. Later this summer, “Winning Woman” finds a home as a series after airing as a special earlier this year. The show covers women and sports.
Showtime blasts off its first full HDTV series on June 21 when it presents “Odyssey V,” in which the crew of a space shuttle witnesses the destruction of Earth and returns to the planet five years earlier to try to undo the events leading to its demise.
“We think the strongest bond we can make with our viewers is with series,” said Gary Levine, executive VP of original programming for Showtime. The network plans a June 23 launch of “Street Time,” a new series following the lives of parole officers and ex-cons.
Food Network brings its top-rated series “Unwrapped” to a full hour on Monday nights starting June 3 with summer-themed shows such as carnival foods, pizza and movie snacks. New series for food lovers include “The Thirsty Traveler” hosted by Kevin Brauch, who treks around the world sampling wines, beers and other drinks starting July 2. On July 7, the network dispatches “The Surreal Gourmet” in which Bob Blumer travels around the country in a Toastermobile and shows his hosts how to throw a dinner party.
On July 1, HGTV will turn former special “At Home With” into a weekly series hosted by Joy Philbin, who visits celebrities in their homes. On May 30, the network debuted “Landscapers Challenge,” in which landscapers try to win over homeowners with their designs.
For ‘toon watchers, the Cartoon Network offers the U.S. premiere of “Hamtaro” on June 3, the story of a gang of hamster pals. On July 19, the network unveils “Whatever Happened to Robot Jones,” the tale of a teenage boy robot. An animated courtroom drama graces the Cartoon Net lineup in July when “Harvey Birdman” returns for its official 13-episode launch following the airing of two shows last September.
In addition to robots and hamsters, new kids fare includes Nickelodeon’s Sept. 6 launch of “The Adventures of Jimmy Neutron: Boy Genius,” the story of a genius kid who invents gadgets.
Japanese imports will be found on ABC Family with the premiere of “Beyblade” and “Shinzo” on July 6. Disney planned a June 7 introduction of “Kim Possible,” the animated action comedy featuring a high school girl who saves the world from villains. The network hops on the reality bandwagon with the June 17 debut of “Totally in Tune,” an unscripted series following the lives of the orchestra members of Hamilton High School, a magnet music school in Los Angeles. The network also has a number of films on its slate, including “Get a Clue,” which airs June 28.
Oxygen’s contributions to the late sum
mer slate include “Candice Checks it Out,” in which Candice Bergen visits noncelebrities who have interesting jobs such as a work-at-home phone sex operator. Also starting in September is “Carrie,” an hour-long talk show hosted by Carrie Fisher. The show graduates from special to series.
Hallmark Channel introduced its first original series on June 2. “Adoption,” a reality series, depicts the experiences of families, birth parents and adoptive children.
Animal Planet launches its first sitcom on Aug. 13 with “Baaad Dog!” which gives a dog’s view of the world.
TLC proffers “Beyond Tough” June 26, in which host Ice-T profiles ordinary people in dangerous jobs, such as oil rig firefighters, Haz-Mat team members and stunt men.
On June 5, Outdoor Life premiered “Adventure Center,” an interactive news magazine covering adventure news. The network also plans to carry the Tour de France from July 6 through 28. Bravo will tender “Breaking News” on July 17, a network news drama. The network’s other new series, “Music Behind the Scenes,” begins July 22. The six episodes dissect the music behind certain movie genres.
On June 10, SoapNet unveils a new daily lifestyle show hosted by Lisa Rinna of “Days of Our Lives” and Ty Treadway of “One Life to Live.”
Comedy Central aims to tickle the funny bone with the June 2 launch of “Crank Yankers,” which features crank calls from real comedians to real people, delivered by puppets. “Saturday Night Live’s” Tracy Morgan will host a new half-hour standup series, “Comic Groove,” premiering Sept. 2.
MuchMusic USA will extend online dedication show “Dedicate Live” from a half-hour to an hour later this summer. On Aug. 24, the network launches “Soul Mates,” which plays videos selected through an online matchmaking service.
The recently launched Fine Living channel will add a new series to its fall slate with the early September launch of “Simplify Your Life,” a series on organizing and simplifying. Style anticipates a July launch for “Katie Brown,” a modern Martha Stewart show. In September the network will introduce “You’re Invited,” a how-to show on throwing parties.
On Memorial Day, VH1 dispatched “Military Diaries,” which chronicles the stories of selected military volunteers and the role of music in their lives.