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Cable TV's search for identity

December 28, 2007|Lynn Smith | Times Staff Writer

Upcoming pilots, one picked up and one already produced, include: "Pretty Handsome," a Ryan Murphy series starring Joseph Fiennes, Carrie-Anne Moss, Blythe Danner and Robert Wagner, and "Sons of Anarchy" by Kurt Sutter and Art and John Linson.

Considering the network's dependence on scripted programming, Landgraf said he is anxious for the strike to end. New seasons of "Damages" and "Rescue Me" have been ordered, and only half-seasons of "Dirt" and "The Riches" have been completed. The 14 completed episodes of "Nip/Tuck" will run through February, he said.

"We've staked our reputation on quality scripted programming. We can't move forward without the end of the strike."

The new slogan is also a play on words to let viewers know FX is in position to expand beyond the television set into the digital universe. "I've spent the last several years getting FX in the business of owning or co-owning shows it produces and aligning all the rights we did have" to roll into broadband, he said. "Our material is already available on iTunes," he said. "You're already seeing us push out beyond the boundaries of our own box."

The new logo has also eliminated the 20th Century Fox klieg lights, leaving the more modern-looking FX letters and a box.

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Discovery Channel

Still associated with its old tag line, "Explore Your World," the Discovery Channel will continue to increase its production of high-energy reality programs such as "Man vs. Wild" and "Deadliest Catch," said the channel's new president John Ford. He prefers, however, to call them "nonfiction entertainment."

" 'Reality' has come to lose its meaning," he said. "It's come to mean things manufactured for our entertainment. 'Survivor' isn't about the reality of people lost on an island. It's really a game show on a big set. We like to distinguish what we do as real world, nonfiction storytelling."

As such, the channel is likely to benefit from the writers strike, Ford said. As popular dramas and comedies go dark, more people are likely to tune in to cable. On the other hand, he said: "Everyone knows that networks are commissioning more nonscripted shows. There could be more competition for nonfiction space."

Though the channel attracts more male viewers, it is moving away from boy-toy shows such as "American Chopper" and toward new series like "Smash Lab," featuring experiments that destroy equipment to explore new improvements, and "Fight Quest," following two young men around the world as they learn various martial arts from masters. The channel will return to big Sunday-night specials and will air a four-hour miniseries on the human body in March. A new Josh Bernstein series will air this summer.

In addition, Ford said: "We hope to get the talent to act with each other. Wouldn't it be fun to have the 'Mythbusters' meet Bear Grylls?"

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Lifetime

With a 31% increase in its programming budget this year, Lifetime Television, the leader in women's TV, had commissioned enough movie scripts to be in production by strike time, said Susanne Daniels, the president of entertainment in charge of both Lifetime Television and Lifetime Movie Network.

She said close to 20 movies are in various stages of development, including "Queen Sized" on Jan. 12; "Racing for Time" on Feb. 16. "Memory Keeper's Daughter," starring Dermot Mulroney and Emily Watson, and "The Capture of the Green River Killer," starring Tom Cavanagh, will air later in the year.

Daniels said Lifetime, much parodied for its "Television for Women" tag line and cliche-ridden story lines, will be moving away from programs about women in peril and female victims and more toward comedies, action and reality programs, such as "How to Look Good Naked," hosted by Carson Kressley on Jan. 4.

While the hit series "Army Wives" brought in many new viewers in the desired younger and urban demographics, Daniels said the strike precludes any new episodes at this point. Another scripted series, "Burnt Toast," based on Teri Hatcher's memoir, is also on the back burner.

Daniels said she doesn't expect much competition this year from Oxygen, which was recently bought by NBC Universal and joins its other top cable channels, Bravo, Sci Fi, and USA.

"It takes a while to get things going," said Jeff Gaspin, the president and chief operating officer of Universal Television Group, who now oversees Oxygen. Viewers will start to see more changes on that network in 2009, he said.

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TruTV

On Jan. 1, a year after its announced re-branding, CourtTV will become TruTV. The tag line "Not reality. Actuality" means the network will continue broadening its reality programming beyond the courtroom to attract "real engagers." "This is life coming at you in real terms," said Steve Koonin, the president of Turner Entertainment Networks. "All our shows will have a first-person narrative."

The switch came about after some sophisticated and expensive research into the psychographics of the network's viewers.

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