LOWDOWN ON THE UPFRONT: Spike Surveys Pilots

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Spike TV is building its slate of non-scripted original fare, announcing a quintet of pilots, and moving toward making the call on whether to place series orders on two other projects.

The development news comes as the male-skewing network will be part of MTV Networks’ upfront presentation this evening in Manhattan and on the heels of strong April ratings performance.

The new pilots on tap for Spike: River Men a docu-series about the rough and dangerous work of the men who make their living battling the mighty Mississippi River; USA vs. The World, a competition series pitting average Americans with some of the roughest jobs in the world against foreign counterparts holding the same occupations; Tank and Cobra, a reality series that follows two bounty hunters; Human Predators, which provides first-hand accounts of people who kill other people professionally or criminally; and Idiot Hall Of Fame, a late-night, half-hour series from veteran television producer Simon Andreae (My Shocking Story, Surgery Saved My Life) that highlights the most idiotic actions of all time.

Along with the aforementioned projects, Spike will make two talent announcements regarding previously announced pilots. Total Non-Stop Action Wrestling champion and former Olympic gold medalist Kurt Angle will serve as host of Caught in the Action, a comedic, hidden camera show from Hallock and Healey Entertainment.  Also, Cade Courtley, an actor, screen writer, and former Navy SEAL officer will host Surviving Terror, produced by Wall to Wall.

Meanwhile, Spike TV president Kevin Kay and other network executives are nearing decisions on whether to place series orders for two other projects, Caught in the Action and The Deadliest Warrior.

For their part, Spike viewers were out in “force” last month. The basic-cable premiere of all six Star Wars theatricals drew a whopping 52.6 million viewers to the network during a two-week run in run in April, a base that helped lift the Nielsen fortunes of original series DEA and Ultimate Fighter.

“I think we’re on a roll,” Kay said in an interview. “The reason we bought Star Wars beyond the fact that we knew it was big and had a tremendous fan base was to help us launch other shows because those tentpole movies give you a platform to get people’s attention.”

Indeed, the network’s reality series DEA — which looks at a group of special agents and task force officers in the Detroit division of the Drug Enforcement Agency, from Al Roker Entertainment — is averaging 1.1 million viewers since its April 2 debut, up 26 percent compared to the syndicated highlight show Whacked Out Sports that aired during DEA’s Wednesday 11 p.m. time slot in 2007.

Further, the series has posted triple-digit increases in Spike’s key demos of men 18-34 (353,000, up 149%) and men 18-49 (582,000, up 131%.)

“We really felt good about the show but we wanted to give the show an opportunity to be seen, and I think that when you have a franchise like Star Wars that you can bring 3 million to 4 million viewers to and you can promote DEA, it paid off big for us and helped us across the board.”

The seventh season premiere of the Ultimate Fighter, the network’s popular mixed martial arts reality series, has also pinned down a strong ratings performance during the month of April, averaging 515,000 male 18-to-34 viewers—the highest since the show’s fourth season in 2006.  

Up next on the original front for Spike is the special 1000 Ways To Die, a voyeuristic journey into the real ways in which people die from Thom Beers (Deadliest Catch, Ice Road Truckers). Depending on the response, the special could be turned into a series, according to Spike officials.

Factory, the network’s first scripted comedy series, will debut June 29. Kay said the show takes a look at the day-to-day lives of four disinterested small town factory workers.

The network is also gearing up to make the call on whether to place series orders for Caught in the Action and The Deadliest Warrior, two programs Kay said Spike is “very excited about.”

The former, from Halley Healey Entertainment (Scare Tactics) involves friends setting up their unsuspecting buddies to be in the middle of elaborate hoaxes, whether barroom brawls, car chases or faux hostage situations.

The Deadliest Warrior, from Morningstar Entertainment (Battlegrounds: The Art of War), is an examination of the world’s most lethal men, gauged by their weaponry and armor. Using CG technology, each episode calculates a winner in a mano a mano face-off.

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