Docudramas Come On Strong at TLC

Dec 19, 2005  •  Post A Comment

As part of a strategy to schedule more half-hour programs, TLC has greenlighted three docudrama reality series to debut early next year.

The new shows chronicle the lives of professional figure skaters, Texas cheerleaders and a family of little people. All the shows were originally conceived as full-hour programs, but due to the relative success of half-hour series such as “Tuckerville,” at least one of the three is being reconfigured to fit a half-hour slot and several other half-hours are in the works.

“The half-hour format is something we’ve had success with on a couple [of] shows, so now we’re experimenting with a new pace and freshness for an audience that craves a different, more compressed rhythm on the schedule,” said TLC Executive VP and General Manager David Abraham.

To that end, the network has ordered 20 half-hour episodes of “Little People, Big Dreams” (Gay Rosenthal Productions), about a pair of little people who are parents of a mix of small and average-size children. The series debuts in March.

“It’s an intelligent and interesting take on a family that are very average on one level, and on another are quite extraordinary,” Mr. Abraham said.

Another new order is six hours of “Ice Diaries,” a behind-the-scenes look at professional figure skaters (produced by TWI-IMG) debuting next month. The third new docudrama consists of 10 one-hour episodes of “Texas Cheerleaders” (High Noon Entertainment), and debuts early next year.

“There’s still very much the learning element that will come through [with the new shows], but there’s the human aspect as well,” Mr. Abraham said. “We focused on having a lot of flair and style with these shows, an attractive and warm presentation.”

Over the past two years TLC experienced one of the most dramatic ratings drops in recent cable history after the bottom fell out of the makeover-reality genre. With shows such as “Trading Spaces” and “While You Were Out” populating a large percentage of the network’s schedule, TLC’s audience fell sharply from 2003 to 2005.

Last April Mr. Abraham was brought from Discovery UK to take over programming leadership at TLC and shake up the schedule. TLC’s projects in development, Mr. Abraham said, were increased from 20 to about 100. Of the first four shows he put on the air (but did not develop)-“Miami Ink,” “Tuckerville,” “Ballroom Bootcamp” and “The Adam Carolla Project”-“Ink” and “Tuckerville” performed above average for the network.

The network is set to renew “Ink” for a second season, with no final decision yet on “Tuckerville.”

For the fourth quarter to date, TLC is still down 12 percent among total viewers compared with fourth quarter 2004 to 710,000 viewers. The network is down 13 percent among 18 to 49 to 400,000 viewers. While double-digit percentage drops are generally considered significant, this quarter’s losses are not as dramatic as some recent quarters for the network.

“It’s a slippery slope when you start to go down, particularly when you depend on younger viewers,” said Lifetime head of research Tim Brooks. “TLC was extremely rich in young-adult upscale viewers, but they’re also the viewers ‘Desperate Housewives,’ ‘Lost’ and everybody else is targeting.”

Mr. Abraham said that stopping the ratings drain while simultaneously replacing 64 percent of his network’s prime-time schedule with nonmakeover programming has been very tricky. Beginning with the previously announced bull riding docudrama “On the Bull” as well as “Ice Diaries,” Mr. Abraham’s own shows will finally start to be televised next month.

“For now, we’re not going to look brilliant,” he said. “But I’ve had six months, and looking month-to-month we’re now slightly holding. What you’re going to see in January is us hitting the next gear.”