Pasadena, Calif. -- While the broadcasters talked a lot
about research and demographics during their recent pitch to television critics here,
cable networks last week trotted out a long parade of original new series that are coming
to their schedules and crowed about the renewals of several of their successful shows.
During the winter Television Critics Association tour,
cable networks outlined their new programming for the coming months. The emphasis was on
the abundance of original new series that were announced, in addition to the usual
made-for-TV movies -- an area where cable has already carved a niche.
Even TBS Superstation, long known as a rerun network, had
three original movies and a new original series, Channel of the Apes, to tout.
"Cable just continued its emphasis on the quality and
quantity of its original programming," said David Glasier, a critic for The
News-Herald in suburban Cleveland.
And in what some said was a first for the tour, both Turner
Network Television and USA Network brought in wrestlers from their respective federations
-- one of cable's biggest ratings success stories -- to face and field questions from
the TV writers.
"You can say what you want about wrestling, and a lot
of critics think that it's rude and crude, but what you can't say is that
it's not reaching an audience," Glasier said.
Last Thursday, Showtime unveiled its plans to do two
original one-hour series, The Hardwood and Beggars and Choosers, both of
which will premiere this summer. Hardwood, with Tom Fontana (Homicide, Oz)
serving as "creative guru," is about two pro-basketball players. Beggars and
Choosers is an inside look at the television industry.
Lilly Tartikoff, widow of former NBC chief Brandon
Tartikoff, is an executive producer for Beggars and Choosers, which was developed
by her late husband during the last two years of his life.
But Showtime was only one of a bevy of cable networks
giving the green light to original series at the tour. Some of the others included Fox
Family Channel, FX, Bravo, Travel Channel and The Nashville Network.
In addition, Home Box Office, Lifetime Television and
Showtime announced some renewals of original primetime series that they have on their
HBO said it had ordered a second season of The Sopranos,
its critically heralded series about a New Jersey mobster who turns to a psychiatrist
during a midlife crisis. HBO had already ordered 13 episodes of the series, and production
on a yet-undetermined number of episodes for the second season will start in June,
according to the show's creator and executive producer, David Chase. He was part of a
panel that included the show's cast.
"The Sopranos is the best new drama of the
year, period, on broadcast or cable," Glasier said.
HBO has also ordered a second season -- 16 episodes -- of
another series that proved popular with critics and viewers alike, Sex and the City,
starring Sarah Jessica Parker.
During HBO's session, chairman and CEO Jeff Bewkes
told the assembled writers, "We are thrilled with our series development at HBO.
We've got, as you know, Sex and the City coming back this summer, as well as Oz
and Arli$$ - and we could not be more positive about the prospects for The
In a similar vein, Lifetime said it had ordered a second
season -- 22 new episodes -- of its hour-long drama, Any Day Now, which was hailed
this year as the "best new drama" by Viewers for Quality Television. Showtime
also just renewed, for 22 episodes each, its two original series, Linc's and
Cable's presentations to writers followed the
broadcast networks' portion of the TCA tour earlier this month. At that time, the TV
critics heard two ex-cable executives, Scott Sassa and Doug Herzog, talk about their plans
for NBC and Fox Broadcasting, respectively, and about ways for broadcast to stop its
Ann Hodges, TV writer for the Houston Chronicle,
described Sassa as one of the many broadcast executives who came to the TCA equipped with
charts and demographic data, which she found to be a disarming switch.
"This year, while the networks seemed increasingly
business-oriented, rather than program oriented, it was just the reverse for cable,"
Hodges said. "With cable, the emphasis was on the actual programming. With the
[broadcast] networks, there was a lot of talk about demographics and niches."
But Hodges noted that it is programming that draws in
viewers, and she didn't see a hit among the newer broadcasters' shows -- a mix
of animation, newsmagazines and reality-based shows.
When she gets back home from the TCA, Hodges said, people
ask her, "'What did you see that is good?' Not, 'Is NBC going after
Glasier maintained that the broadcasters'
"obsession with research and ratings is just paralyzing" them.
But he added, "Having said that, I totally disagree
with the doomsday predictions being given by many of my fellow critics -The broadcast
networks are still the destination for a majority of viewers."
One of the things that Hodges credited cable for was its
diversity of offerings at the TCA tour. For example, she described Discovery
Channel's Cleopatra's Palace: In Search of a Legend as a
Discovery is touting the special's March 14 debut as
the first-ever global primetime television event. Cleopatra's Palace shows
archeologists going to the remains of the Royal Quarters of Cleopatra, which lay below the
waters of the harbor of Alexandria, Egypt, for 2,000 years.
In total, 23 language-customized versions of the special
will air in 142 countries in the same primetime slot -- 9 p.m. to 10 p.m. -- on the
various Discovery feeds around the world.
Hodges also described TNT's original movie about the
early days of Apple Computer Inc. and Microsoft Corp. and the bitter rivalry between Bill
Gates and Steve Jobs, Pirates of Silicon Valley, as "a marvelous idea." ER's
Noah Wyle stars as Jobs, with Anthony Michael Hall as Gates.
She was also upbeat about The Sopranos.
"That's going to work very well," Hodges said. "It should take off
like [The] Larry Sanders [Show]."
Aside from that series, HBO and Showtime both have
mob-related original movies coming this year. Richard Dreyfuss stars in HBO's Lansky
Feb. 27, while Showtime has a six-hour miniseries, Bonanno: A Godfather's
Story, premiering this summer.
In addition to unveiling several new original movies, the
relaunched Fox Family Channel said it has two new primetime sitcoms coming to its
schedule. They are Big Wolf on Campus, about a high-school jock who is bitten by a
werewolf and who must then live with the consequences; and Misguided Angels, about
two rejects from heaven who have to re-earn their wings by coming back to Earth. Both
comedies are slated to debut in April.
FX has also ordered 13 episodes each of three new original
series: Fast Food Films, a primetime series that uses clips of classic movies to do
short-form parodies; The X Show, a talk show; and The Dick and Paula Celebrity
Special,an animated weekly half-hour primetime series.
Bravo was touting its previously announced original series
with documentary filmmaker Michael Moore, The Awful Truth, which premieres April
11, as well as its first miniseries, the eight-hour, $20 million The Count of Monte
Christo.It stars Gerard Depardieu and premieres in June.
A&E Network used the TCA as the platform to officially
announce that CBS veteran Harry Smith was going to become the primary host for Biography.
Smith appeared on a panel at A&E's presentation.
A&E also highlighted its spring debuts for two
projects; the two-hour film The Scarlett Pimpernel, which will air March 7, and
four two-hour adaptations of Horatio Hornblower, the first of which will make its
North American premiere in April.
Cable News Network executives Richard Kaplan and Tom
Johnson were no-shows at the TCA, with Kaplan in a Cleveland hospital undergoing surgery
to remove kidney stones. Instead, Eason Jordan, president of international networks for
the CNN News Group, did CNN's presentation and fielded a question about the aftermath
of the "Tailwind" retraction last year.
At last summer's TCA, Time Warner Inc. vice chairman
Ted Turner appeared and apologized for the fiasco.
"It was a nightmarish experience, but I can tell you
with absolute certainty that CNN emerged stronger from that process -- a gut-wrenching
process," Jordan said. "We've put new safeguards in place."
Pat Mitchell, president of CNN Productions, highlighted
three CNN programming projects for this year. Those included the 10-part documentary Celebrate
the Century, which begins May 2; the 10-part series Millennium, which begins in
October; and CNN's partnering with corporate sibling People magazine to create
an 11-week "CNN NewsStand" limited series tying in with the publication's
25th anniversary. That series will start airing March 23.
Like CNN, The History Channel and TNN have millennium
series planned. History's is more than 15 hours, and it is called The Century:
America's Time.TNN is set to debut its 13-part documentary series, Century
of Country,March 31, and actor James Garner will host it.