Travel ‘Eyes’ Biker Gathering

May 9, 2005  •  Post A Comment

Travel Channel has slated its first docu-soap reality series, a show that will take viewers to a less-than-exotic vacation destination: Sturgis, S.D.

In “One-Eyed Jack’s,” a new series slated for a fourth-quarter or early 2005 debut, cameras follow the employees and patrons of One-Eyed Jack’s Saloon, the most popular watering hole in Sturgis. The tavern is a biker hangout and the hub of the annual Sturgis Motorcycle Rally.

The Discovery-owned network plans to shoot the series during the rally in August, when a half-million motorcycle enthusiasts invade the small town.

Docu-soaps-in which cameras follow an amusing clan of real-life characters about their daily business without any obvious dramatic intrusions-have lately become the cable reality genre du jour. Fellow Discovery-owned network TLC has recently announced several docu-soaps, while A&E owes much of its recent ratings recovery to the genre.

Though the series was put into development before last month’s arrival of new General Manager Patrick Younge, who joined the channel from BBC Sports, the show reflects Mr. Younge’s mandate of producing more series that focus on storytelling.

“We’re trying to shift the away from an emphasis on top 10 and world’s greatest and shift toward series based around characters people can engage,” Mr. Younge said. Further down in Travel Channel’s development pipeline is “Lost Weekend” (working title), a look at the platonic same-sex vacation industry, where groups enjoy single-gender bonding experiences.

Another in-development project is “The Hunt” (working title), a reality version of the popular college game “Assassin,” in which teams of players stalk and try to “kill” assigned targets.

Ratings for the Travel Channel were steady for the most recent quarter, maintaining a prime-time average of about 400,000 viewers, according to Nielsen Media Research. This month the channel reached a distribution milestone, now reaching 80.1 million homes in the United States.

For its recent upfront, Travel Channel announced two new series: “Anthony Bourdain: No Reservations,” in which the “Kitchen Confidential” author travels to exotic locales; and “Stranded-With Cash Peters,” in which the travel author is dropped off at a mystery location.

Mr. Younge also has inherited the decision of whether to purchase the upcoming “World Poker Tour” spinoff series “Professional Poker Tour.” “WPT” is one of Travel Channel’s most popular series but is also considered a somewhat loose fit for the travel brand.

“WPT does a fantastic job for us,” Mr. Younge said. “If we thought [the spinoff] would be too much poker for us, we wouldn’t do it. If I thought we can do it, we will.”