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TV Guide Turns On Originals

Oct 31, 2004  •  Post A Comment

By James Hibberd

TV Guide Channel has greenlighted a dozen new series and specials that combine E!-style clip shows with a program-guide slant. The strategy is part of an effort to establish the channel as an original programming destination while maintaining its brand as a guidance resource by airing programs that promote other networks.

“There’s definitely a need for help figuring out what to watch, especially when you get into 500-channel digital homes,” said Tom Cosgrove, general manager and senior VP of the network. “The more channels, the greater the need.”

To meet that need, the network has 22 programs in development and is planning a multimillion-dollar promotional campaign that includes print ads, radio, outdoor and local cable spots set to launch at the end of December.

In its first major on-air talent hire since the network’s high-profile snare of E! red carpet queens Joan and Melissa Rivers, TV Guide has signed former “Talk Soup” host John Henson. Mr. Henson will front a rebranded version of “What’s Next,” a segment airing at the top of each hour suggesting programs across the channel spectrum. The segment will be lengthened to three minutes and retitled “Watch This.”

“He’s a true TV personality-he’s on his third TiVo at home,” said Danila Koverman, TV Guide’s senior VP of programming and production. “He can give an assertive take about what’s on next.”

Despite the channel’s hiring former E! personalities and the new celebrity-entertainment-driven slate, Ms. Koverman-an E! veteran herself-denied TV Guide has designs on the Comcast-owned entertainment channel.

“E! wasn’t even a consideration when hiring John,” she said. “E! is so ubiquitous, if you’re doing [television-focused programming] it’s hard to find somebody who hasn’t worked there. What I think E! does in a more general way is celebrate television. We’re more laser-focused on providing guidance.”

Added Mr. Cosgrove: “We’re the only channel that actively and excitedly promotes other networks.”

Unlike previous TV Guide Channel content, the new programming will be increasingly outsourced to production companies. Meanwhile, shows produced by TV Guide will be shot at a new studio; the network has remodeled the studio space in Hollywood formerly occupied by the production of “On-Air With Ryan Seacrest” to serve as a base for all TV Guide Channel productions.

“Up until three months ago, everything was done internally,” Mr. Cosgrove said. “Now about half will be out-of-house programming.”

Among the new shows:

w “Weekend Review Preview”: A one-hour preview of shows airing the next week and coverage of entertainment news and gossip. Co-anchored by Lesley Ann Machado and Madison Michele and airing at 7 p.m. Fridays.

w “TV Guide Cover Stories”: A one-hour weekly celebrity biography based on the covers of TV Guide magazine. Includes interviews with the article’s writer and photographer.

w “Racing Superstars”: A one-hour special on auto racing profiling drivers and their families, while providing a preview of NASCAR’s new championship format, the Chase for the Nextel Cup. Premieres Nov. 14 at 8 p.m.

w “Live at the American Music Awards”: Live on the red carpet at the AMAs Nov. 14. Though this will be the network’s first red carpet coverage since Joan and Melissa Rivers joined the network, the duo will not be covering the event. “They will have their start next year,” Ms. Koverman said. “This is more of a musical show. It’s not a traditional awards show.”

w “Holiday Guide to Music” and “Guide to Holiday Entertainment”: A look at new CD releases and holiday television programming, respectively. “Music” airs Nov. 21 and “Entertainment” airs Nov. 28., both at 8 p.m.

w In January: “American Idol: Where are They Now?” (interviews with contestants from the first three seasons, timed to the season debut) and “Super Bowl XXXIX” (a behind-the-scenes look at the game).

w-In February: “Survivor 10 Preview” (profiles of the new cast) and “Cross-Over Stars” (profiles of entertainers who switched mediums).

w In March: “Where are They Now: Reality Villains” (profiles of reality show participants), “TV Hunks and Babes” (a countdown show of the sexiest stars on television) and “World TV” (profiling the original foreign versions of favorite reality shows).

Brad Adgate, senior VP of research for Horizon Media, said TV Guide’s strategy of shifting from pure guidance to a guidance-long form hybrid is not only a good idea but necessary.

“They really have no choice but to do something like this,” Mr. Adgate said. “It’s like The Weather Channel putting on `Storm Stories.’ It will get viewers to watch longer and help increase audience delivery.”

Other factors pushing the development slate include the progression of digital cable and satellite services, which offer their own guidance menus reducing the need for a scrolling-menu channel. “There is a recognition that we need to keep up with the change,” Mr. Cosgrove said.

During TV Guide’s original programming, scrolling listings will continue. The exception, sources said, will be during live Joan and Melissa Rivers events. “There won’t be a scroll, but there will be a different kind of guidance,” Mr. Cosgrove said.