This year’s cable network upfronts have thus far produced the typical laundry list of original scripted comedies and dramas, as well as competition reality shows and the occasional game show.
What’s interesting about this upfront season is not so much the shows themselves, but the networks that are flipping their programming strategies to try new content formats.
BET will most likely expand its music and reality series-dominated lineup into the onehour drama format for the first time with Being Mary Jane, an original movie pilot starring Gabrielle Union that it expects to convert into a series, according to BET CEO Debra Lee.
Not to be outdone, Bravo — cultivators of personality-driven reality shows like the Real Housewives franchise — will seek new ratings fortunes in the scripted genre with several projects, including 22 Birthdays, about the scandalous activities of a group of parents at an exclusive private school, and Blowing Sunshine, which follows the staff and high-profile patients at a fictional private rehabilitation center.
Music-themed network Fuse will jump into the scripted arena with Blaze Studios, a half-hour musical comedy starring Marcus Paulk (Redtails) and Quinton Aaron (The Blind Side) that takes a behind-the-scenes look at the wild antics of the staff and clients at a high-end recording studio.
Hallmark Channel will tap the bestseller list for its first two scripted series. The two series, scheduled for a 2013 premiere, are based on concepts from authors Debbie Macomber and Janette Oke, both of whom have had their work previously developed for movies on Hallmark Channel and Hallmark Movie Channel.
Country music-themed CMT will look to strike a chord with viewers in the animation arena with Bounty Hunters, about three friends and their bounty-hunting business. Comedians Jeff Foxworthy, Bill Engvall and Larry the Cable Guy are involved.
If you’re into reality competition series, look no further than genre neophyte Animal Planet, which will look to hook viewers through its new fishing-themed competition series Top Hooker.
New game show programming can now be found on reality series-themed networks like MTV2 and Fuse, while reality series can be found on GSN (formerly Game Show Network).
Network executives say program diversification is imperative to draw new viewers within a hyper-competitive cable environment. But networks that stretch the genre boundaries of their content have to be careful not to dilute their brand image in viewer’s eyes.