Basic Cable Networks Are Feeling Fit


Cable networks are savoring their success, having bested cumulative broadcast ratings for the last three sweeps periods.

Cable programmers are aware they have advantages, such as smaller audiences needed to qualify a show as a hit compared to the broadcast universe. But they face challenges, such as staving off energized broadcast networks like ABC, invigorated by hits Lost and Desperate Housewives.

Showtime Networks Inc., FX, Turner Network Television, TBS, A&E Networks, MTV Music Group and Disney Channel representatives opined on the state of cable programming April 6 at a Hollywood Radio and Television Society luncheon in Beverly Hills, concluding it’s nice not to have the pressures of being a broadcaster.

None of the executives said they aspired to an all-original, seven-day-a-week primetime schedule.

A&E has a better business doing “fewer, bigger, better” shows than a broadcaster, said Robert DeBitetto, executive vice president of programming. A&E currently is in the midst of a four-year plan to “re-engineer the network.” The programmer has successfully added reality into the mix: Growing Up Gotti has helped the network deliver average viewers who are in their 30s, rather than 40s, he said.

Off-network acquisitions (24, CSI Miami and an edited-for-basic The Sopranos) will be platforms to promote A&E originals.

Twenty to forty hours per week of original programming “is not a successful model for us,” added Steve Koonin, TNT/TBS executive vice president and chief operating officer. If his production slate went that full, “we’d lose quality.”

Asked what shows on other networks they would love to poach, MTV Music Group entertainment president Brian Graden thinks Showtime’s Fat Actress would have been a great fit on VH1, and he could find places for E! Entertainment Television’s Chasing Farrah and Comedy Central’s Blue Collar Comedy Tour as well.

Showtime and TNT executives wish they had been pitched Fox’s Arrested Development. Nickelodeon’s Spongebob Squarepants and his toys, movies and other iterations could have been a bonanza for The Disney Channel, said Rich Ross, president of Disney Channel Worldwide.

FX and Showtime want to covet HBO’s mantle of quality on cable. “They’ve had it long enough,” FX entertainment president John Landgraf said.