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TLC Inks Tattoo Reality Series

Apr 25, 2005  •  Post A Comment

Discovery Networks’ TLC has greenlighted “Miami Ink,” a six-episode reality series set in a South Beach tattoo parlor and scheduled for a late-summer debut. The series sets the stage for a face-off against competitor A&E, which is launching a Las Vegas-based tattoo parlor series called “Inked” this summer.

Though it’s unlikely the shows will air during the same weeks, the dueling tattoo projects illustrate how close in content reality programming has brought TLC and A&E-cable networks with very different brands-in recent months.

A&E, long known as an artsy outlet, has pulled itself out of its rating doldrums with contemporary “docu-soap” reality shows such as “Dog the Bounty Hunter,” “Airline” and “Growing Up Gotti.”

Nonfiction network TLC, trying to bounce back from a ratings freefall led by its signature makeover show “Trading Spaces,” is launching a few contemporary docu-soaps of its own. At the network’s upfront presentation earlier this month, TLC showcased “Sheer Dallas,” about Texas socialites, and “Million Dollar Agents,” about high-end real estate brokers.

TelevisionWeek also has learned TLC is in negotiations to acquire a docu-soap called “Backstage Beauty Queens,” about three beauty pageant contestants preparing for a state competition, and “Jump USA,” about a group of “free runners” who practice the sport of roof jumping-leaping from rooftop to rooftop in dense cities.

Though the network declined to comment on projects in negotiation, Michael Klein, TLC’s interim VP of production, said “Miami Ink” brings a fresh approach to the tattoo parlor setting.

“With our show, we’re focusing on five individuals in South Beach who’re really entrenched in the South Beach lifestyle,” Mr. Klein said. “It’s their world through their eyes. The tattoos are sort of our way into that world.”

According to an A&E spokesperson, however, TLC is following in their footsteps. “Inked” launches in July, but the network aired the pilot last October without accompanying promotion. The episode scored a healthy 834,000 total viewers, according to Nielsen Media Research. The network then greenlighted a full season.

“A&E is the successful role model for how to turn around a network,” said spokesman Michael Feeney.

TLC’s recent decisions are not necessarily representative of a comprehensive master programming plan, sources said. The network was without a programming head since executive VP and general manager Roger Marmet resigned in January. His replacement, David Abraham, who’s managed Discovery’s nine United Kingdom channels since 2001, just joined the network earlier this month.

Meanwhile, sources said the network has focused on trying to launch quality shows that expand TLC’s brand beyond the makeover genre. Sources said Mr. Abraham is now evaluating TLC slate and preparing a vision for future programming.