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Originals With Urban Appeal

2/24/2006 7:02 PM Eastern

Starz Entertainment Group is looking to establish a beachhead in the original-programming arena with the launch of several new series targeted at urban young adults.

While Home Box Office and Showtime Networks have made inroads with original series, Starz has relied mostly on theatrical releases and the occasional original documentary to attract subscribers and viewers.

The company’s StarzEdge multiplex service next week will launch Jacked, a planned quarterly series that provides a forum for stars from the entertainment and music communities to flex their creative muscles, according to David Charmatz, Starz senior vice president of channel management. The March 4 premiere episode will feature rap star Ludacris.

“We gave the floor to [Ludacris] to do what he thinks is interesting and entertaining,” he said. “With this show, we want to try to talk to Hollywood to provide them with a forum to experiment and have some creative freedom.”

Jacked follows a pair of original series that bowed last year on StarzInBlack. The October launch of The 1st Amendment Stand-Up, an uncensored comedy series, and The B-Side, a mix of music, animation, interviews and spoken-word performances that bowed the following month, in particular appeal to African-American viewers, which Shelanski says makes up more than 20% of all premium subscribers.

Although he said viewer response has been strong, he would not disclose specific ratings.

“The movie inventory is quite thin for StarzInBlack, so we have to take it upon ourselves to create original programming to give viewers new content,” Shelanski said. “We’ve done that with films and documentaries, and now we’re doing that with half-hour shows and all kinds of entertainment.”

Charmatz said Starz is also looking to develop several other shows, including a series focusing on African American-targeted Broadway plays. “Black Broadway is getting a much greater profile and we feel that it’s an area that we can get on early and showcase the integration that’s going on between the cinema and the theater in the category,” he said.

Starz is also developing an Star Search-like series to bow in June dubbed Looking for Starz. The 10-minute primetime segments will feature a contest in which would-be actors from four cities compete to win a speaking role in a Revolution Studios picture later this year.

“It’s not about whether you know how to act, but its looking at all the facets of being a star — your presence, charisma and talent,” he said.

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