Network Upfronts


Sci Fi to Build on Its Originals Base

New YorkNew York — Looking to build on its ratings-rich Friday-night original-programming block of Battlestar Galactica, Stargate Atlantis and Stargate SG-1, Sci Fi Channel will roll out several new scripted shows later this year and into 2006, including Urban Arcana, a drama about mythical creatures causing mayhem on Earth; Tomorrow’s Child, in which a young burn victim is healed through “skin” of extraterrestrial origin; Time Tunnel, an updated version of the 1960s TV series; and 3:52, which will examine what would happen if 2 billion people suddenly vanished from the earth. Also in the development docket: Those Who Walk in Darkness, a near-future drama based on a John Ridley novel.

Sci Fi will also venture into the world of comic books by producing a pair of live-action series: Painkiller Jane, based on a superheroine; and Heroes Anonymous, an adaptation on the comic book of the same name, chronicling the lives of aspiring superheroes seeking to balance daily life with their secret identities.

Sci Fi has tapped actor Michael Douglas to produce a yet-to-be-titled project based on the works and life of suspense author Shirley Jackson. On the reality front, Sci Fi is sizing up Barbarian Chronicles, an ensemble comedy that will feature “middle-earth metrosexuals” living in a new magical world; and Seriously Baffling Mysteries, a spoof on the supernatural-investigative craze, produced by FremantleMedia North America.

Those shows will join previously announced reality series Dallas in Wonderland, where host Dallas Campbell attempts to accomplish bizarre science-fiction challenges.

R. Thomas Umstead

Turner Supplies Laughs And Plenty of Telepics

New York — Turner Network Television and TBS, which have built much of their ratings via off-network shows, trumpeted their aggressive moves into original series and telepics at their joint upfront gala April 12.

TNT unveiled a slate of original programming that included three made-for-TV movies in development, on top of the previously announced raft of star-studded dramatic series and miniseries. TNT’s telepics include a sequel to last year’s top-rated telepic The Librarian, again starring Noah Wyle; Pleading Guilty, based on the bestseller by Scott Turow; and Avenger, a thriller based on the novel by Frederick Forsyth.

In June, TNT will debut its 12-hour miniseries from Steven Spielberg, Into the West. TNT also has two drama series debuting this summer: The Closer with Kyra Sedgwick and Wanted with Gary Cole.

TNT has a limited series on the drawing board, Nightmares & Dreamscapes: From the Stories of Stephen King, slated for summer 2006. Horror-meister King was on hand to talk it up.

TBS’s biggest news was Earth to America, a two-hour comedy event that tapes at the Comedy Festival in Las Vegas this fall, airing later on the network and featuring talent such as Tom Hanks and Steve Martin.

TBS also previewed Minding the Store, a reality show about Pauly Shore trying to get his mother’s Comedy Store back on track, and Daisy Does America, showcasing British comedian Daisy Donovan. Courtney Cox Arquette and David Arquette are its executive producers, and they appeared at the upfront along with Donovan and Shore.

Linda Moss

Latino Sense of Reality Adding Spice to Si TV

New York — Year-old, English-language Latino network Si TV is adding seven new original series to its roster, including a good dose of reality programming along with sketch comedy.

With the new shows Si TV, now in nearly 10 million homes, will have 19 original series on its program lineup. Time Warner Cable, one of Si TV’s investors, recently launched the youth-oriented network in New York.

The network trumpeted its new series, including LOL, Laugh Out Loud, where comics perform sketches before a studio audience. Fish Outta Water depicts what happens when a group of pencil-pushing geeks are transplanted from their office jobs to the great outdoors.

In Party With Miss Bacardi, model, socialite and Bacardi rum heiress Carolina Bacardi, whom Si TV chairman Jeff Valdez described as a Latin Paris Hilton, hosts a look at the glitz and glamour of Hollywood nightlife. Jammin’ will enable up-an-coming house garage bands to play with their musical idols.

Road Whores follows the adventures of three Latino comics on a humbling tour of one-nighters. And the second season of Urban Jungle, namely Urban Jungle 2: Straight into Compton, will feature 12 suburbanites who are transplanted to experience life in the hood in Compton.

Last Wednesday was declared “Si TV Day” in New York City by Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s office. The proclamation was presented at the upfront to Valdez and Time Warner Inc. CEO Richard Parsons.

Linda Moss

'BET Nightly News’ Goes Away Quietly

New York — Black Entertainment Television’s upfront last week was highlighted by performances from musical stars such as Nelly, John Legend, Common, Kanye West and Ludacris.

Behind the loud, star-driven presentation, the Viacom Inc. service quietly disclosed it’s shelving the decade-old daily news show BET Nightly News at summer’s end. Instead, it will offer minute-long news briefs hourly from 10 a.m. to 11 p.m., as well as public-affairs programming like its recently launched series The Cousin Jeff Chronicles.

BET Nightly News, the only daily African-American newscast on a major broadcast or cable network, failed to post adequate ratings during its 11 p.m. time slot, averaging between a 0.3 and 0.4 rating.

BET chief operating officer Debra Lee said that the more condensed news reports and specials will hopefully satisfy critics within the African-American community who believed that BET wasn’t doing enough public affairs programming, even with BET Nightly News.

As it celebrates its 25th anniversary, BET said it hopes to debut a pair of series by fall.

The network is currently in pilot production on Remix, a body and soul makeover series; The Ultimate Hustler, a contestant show testing the participants business acumen and street credibility, a la The Apprentice, featuring entrepreneur Damon Dash; and a celebrity poker series.

On April 21, the network will bow reality series Blowin’ Up Fatty Koo, which will follow five kids aiming for a career in the record business.

R. Thomas Umstead

Lifetime Tries New Forms: Miniseries, 'Limited’ On Tap

New York — Increasing its original programming by one-third during the 2005-06 TV season, Lifetime Television will jump into the miniseries and limited series forms for the first time.

Bowing on Oct. 3 is Human Trafficking, the women’s-targeted network’s initial miniseries. It’s a four-hour project running over successive nights about the realities of international sex trafficking, starring Mira Sorvino and Donald Sutherland.

On July 25, Lifetime will premiere its first limited series, Beach Girls. Inspired by the best-selling novel by Luanne Rice, the six-hour program explores the bonds of friendship as women who spent the summers of their youth at a seaside town reconvene after one dies.

Pointing to Gravity, a project in development about female astronauts, and “a couple of others that are not quite done yet,” Lifetime Entertainment Services executive vice president and general manager Rick Haskins said the network is exploring the limited series form and how it will resonate with time-strapped viewers.

Haskins, who mentioned six of many projects in various stages of development, said Lifetime would choose one or two to become series either late this year or early in 2006.

Hailed for their impressive growth across a number of women demos, Lifetime’s original movies were also front and center, as the network plans 18 original telepics next season.

Mike Reynolds