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Celebreality Hot at TV Critics' Tour

Pasadena, Calif. — Celebreality television is alive and well on cable as several networks announced genre projects here last week during the annual Television Critics Association’s Winter Tour.

The sector has been hot of late, led by VH1’s breakout hit Flavor of Love, and more recently by its spinoff I Love New York, which drew a network record for a series debut with 4.4 million viewers on Jan. 8.

Beverly Hills 90210 alum Tori Spelling will take another shot at the celebreality genre with new Oxygen series Tori & Dean: Inn Love. The pregnant Spelling, who’s coming off her recent VH1 reality series So NoTORIous, will appear in the series with husband Dean McDermott as they invest Spelling’s inheritance from her late father, producer Aaron Spelling, by buying an eight-acre bed-and-breakfast in Temecula, Calif.

VH1 will add another genre-based series to its lineup in spring 2007 with Band of Men. The series will place four former boy band singers — Chris Kilpatrick (N*Sync), Jeff Timmons (98 Degrees), Rich Cronin (LFO) and Brian Abrams (Color Me Badd) — under the same roof for one month in an effort to create new music and perform as a new pop group.

TV One jumps into the celebreality field in April with I Married a Baller, which follows the lives of former pro-football player Eddie George and his wife, R&B singer Taj.

While traditional programming was the main attraction at the TCA, the Web also gained some facetime in Pasadena.

User-generated content will play a prominent role at the June 3 MTV Movie Awards with some categories based on those contributions, according to the show’s producer Mark Bennett (Survivor, The Apprentice).

The Disney Channel will allow its audience to influence dialog in the upcoming High School Musical 2, as well as which character from its Hannah Montana series they’d most like to see have a walk-on role in the sequel to the service’s hit movie.

Animal Planet’s upcoming series, Saving Grace, chronicling the rehabilitation of a lost sea otter, will make its linear debut March, then go to five-minute daily Webisodes, until the 30-minute finale at month’s end.

Sci Fi Channel will allow Battlestar Galactica fans to create promotional content that could end up on air though a new user-friendly video tool on its Pulse broadband channel.

NBCU Plans New Horror, Crime Channels

Burbank, Calif. — Two years ago, officials at NBC Universal Cable Entertainment said they were exploring launching a crime channel and a horror network.

Last Friday, NBCU made good on the second part of that commitment, taking the shroud off plans for a 24-hour horror service, Chiller, which DirecTV will be the first to carry, when it debuts March 1.

NBCU last year created its crime channel, Sleuth.

Chiller will be a multiplatform service, comprising a standard-definition channel, a high-definition simulcast channel and a video-on-demand channel, as well as broadband on-demand offerings.

At this juncture, NBCU faces genre competition in the form of Rainbow Media’s Monsters HD service, which is offered by EchoStar Communications’ Dish Network, and Fearnet, the spawn of Comcast’s partnership with Sony Pictures Entertainment and indie movie studio Lionsgate, which debuted last Halloween as an on-demand network and Web site. Fearnet could one day evolve into a 24-hour cable network.

NBCU has been mulling a horror channel for some time. Two years ago, David Zaslav, who was then president of NBC Universal Cable, said the company was exploring using its film and TV libraries as the backbone of a horror network and crime channel [“NBCU Eyes Horror, Crime Nets,” April 25, 2005, page 4].

And in fact, at launch, Chiller’s programming slate will include the TV series Twin Peaks, Alfred Hitchcock Presents and Tales from the Crypt. Feature films in rotation will include The Shining, Hitchcock’s Psycho, Blade Runner and The Unholy.

Dan Harrison, senior vice president of emerging networks for NBC Universal Cable Entertainment, will oversee day-to-day operations of Chiller. He also runs Sleuth and Universal HD under the Emerging Networks banner.

Court TV May Be Dumped FromEchoStar’s Lineup Forever

Las Vegas — Court TV may permanently lose its slot on EchoStar Communications’ Dish Network Feb. 1 if the dispute between the network and satellite provider isn’t resolved by then, EchoStar chairman Charlie Ergen said.

“We have a number of good offers from people who’d like to take over that space,” he said at a 2007 International Consumer Electronics Show press conference.

Right now, Dish has put The Biography Channel in Court TV’s slot.

Court TV lost carriage on EchoStar’s most widely distributed tier, America’s Top 60, losing about 11 million subscribers, on New Year’s Eve when the network’s carriage deal expired.

Both parties had been trying to negotiate a renewal, but couldn’t come to terms. Turner officials said that Dish Network was trying to move Court TV to a tier with less penetration, America’s Top 120, which would have cut 3 million homes from its distribution.

As for Ergen’s remarks, a Turner spokeswoman said, “We are aware of the deadline Mr. Ergen gave at their CES press conference and remain hopeful there will be a resolution.”

Telemundo Turns 20 as No. 2

Los Angeles — Last Friday, Telemundo marked its 20th anniversary as a network, a span that has seen the Spanish-language network rank a distant second in ratings and revenue to Univision.

“We don’t have to beat Univision to be successful,” Telemundo president Don Browne said. “We just have to grow our share of the pie. We don’t have to be number one in broadcast.”

And the broadcaster will almost certainly not ascend to that position anytime soon, although Browne is quick to point to increased ratings since NBC Universal took control of Telemundo in April, 2002.

At the time, Telemundo averaged 919,000 primetime viewers and 417,000 viewers in total day ratings. That number was up to 1.04 million and 441,000 in November 2006, according to Nielsen Hispanic Television Index. Telemundo executives said the network has lifted its share of the Spanish-language TV audience in 2006 from 18% in 2005.

Browne attributes the increase in audience levels to NBCU’s expensive in-house production strategy. Telemundo now produces and exports much of its programming.

Telemundo’s most recent numbers, though, fall short of the 1.16 million primetime viewers and 440,000 total-day watchers it averaged in 1992, when Nielsen first began measuring Spanish-language television ratings and there was far less competition in the sector.

NBCU has also heavily invested in upgrading Telemundo-owned Latino youth cable network mun2, which is available in about 10.5 million homes.

According to mun2 general manager Alex Pels, the network has experienced 12 straight months of ratings growth, which has prompted increased advertiser interest. “We had a very good upfront in ’06 and added 14 major new advertisers, which has more than doubled our ad sales revenue.”

Even with improvements in ratings over the 18 months, Browne conceded “it takes time when you have a competitor that has been so dominant for so long. It creates significant habits in peoples viewing patterns. So we have to chip away at that dominance.”

A&E’s Off-Net 'Sopranos’ Debut Makes Cable Ratings History

New York — A&E Network’s premiere of The Sopranos lived up to one of the taglines it has been using to tout the syndicated arrival: “Just Got Made” — as in just made history.

The Jan. 10 debut of the pilot of HBO’s acclaimed mob series drew 4.3 million viewers, making it the most-watched off-network debut in cable history, according to A&E officials. The second episode, which followed immediately thereafter, attracted 3.45 million viewers.

The shows made A&E the No. 1 basic-cable network in households that night in total viewers and among adults 18 to 34, 18 to 49 and 25 to 54.

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