Originals Announced at TCA Tour


Pasadena, Calif. -- AMC and Spike TV are among the networks making new forays into original programming.

In the case of AMC, the basic-movie network will debut its first original movie with two-part, four-hour Western Broken Trail, starring Robert Duvall and Thomas Haden Church.

“Why a Western? We knew our audience would love a Western. This is an epic style not being done in Hollywood -- at least not where the cowboys are straight,” said Ed Carroll, president of Rainbow Entertainment Services, a quip eliciting groans from the critics gathered here for the Television Critics Association press tour.

Although it’s a Western, producers believe Broken Trail will attract an audience among Asians, too, as part of the movie’s plot is about Chinese women who were sold into slavery -- a part of history that has not been explored cinematically. The film will debut June 24-25.

The Spike original is a two-hour film based on theatrical trilogy Blade.At this point, the project is just the movie, but Spike executives said more scripts are being written and the network hopes to green-light it as a series. However, they will wait until they see the completed telefilm, which is still in post-production.

Blade stars Kirk “Sticky” Jones, who got the title role the day before he heard that his previous series, Over There, had gotten the ax from FX. The telefilm is scheduled to debut sometime in June.

In March, Spike will also debut a new reality series, Pros vs. Joes, which will pit regular-guy wanna-bes against sports veterans including basketballer Dennis Rodman, former National Football League player Bill Romanowski (who was shown in a TCA clip tackling his Joe foe into a retaining wall) and Olympic Games softball gold-medal pitcher Jennie Finch, among others.

In other announcements:

• Medium John Edward believes he talks to dead people, but WE: Women’s Entertainment believes he has an “emotional connection” to a live female audience, too.

Edward, who has had a series on broadcast syndication and on Sci Fi Channel, will now have an eight-episode, documentary-style series on WE called John Edward Cross Country. The medium will visit at home with families with whom he’s communicated in some of his large group sessions around the country. The show does not include further readings, but it will document the families’ “healing and spiritual growth.”

• On VHI, So NoTORIous sounds like one of those celebrity follow-along reality shows, this time featuring celebrity spawn Tori Spelling of Beverly Hills,90210 fame, but it’s not.

The series is actually a single-camera scripted comedy, spoofing Spelling’s life as the daughter of mega-producer Aaron Spelling and as an actress struggling to make it on her own.

The show was developed for NBC during last year’s pilot season, but when the broadcaster did not pick it up, the producers were free to shop it to other networks. Finding a home on cable means that the show can be “edgier, darker” that its broadcast iteration would have been, the producers added.

And no, her parents aren’t in the show: Loni Anderson has been cast as Spelling’s mega-rich mother, called Kiki, not Candy.

The baby-boomer music network will also debut Heavy: The History of Metal. The “rock doc” follows in the footsteps of last year’s And Don’t Stop: 30 Years of Hip-Hop. Michael Hirschorn, VH1’s new executive vice president of original programming and production, said the rock docs “don’t blow the ratings out,” but VH1 is dedicated to them because “music is what we do.”

• TV Land will mark Black History Month in February with a three-part special, That’s What I’m Talking About, featuring African-American actors, producers, writers and directors and “one token white guy,” Joey Fatone, sometimes discussing and sometimes arguing about issues impacting their community.

Producers explained that Fatone is a friend of the host of the specials, Wayne Brady, and participates by explaining how Motown bands influenced him.

• Country Music Television, the new home of the Miss America Pageant, will expand that brand by showing collateral programming such as Greatest Miss America Moments Jan. 21, in advance of the contest itself.

The pageant was dropped last year by ABC due to declining ratings. Miss America CEO Art McMaster argued that ratings were down due to viewer fragmentation, not disinterest in the pageant. He said the beauty contest topped the ratings the Saturday it was shown. ABC was not willing to do expanded programming such as the greatest-moments special, but CMT has welcomed the opportunity, he noted.

This year’s pageant will be hosted by Desperate Housewives star James Denton. Organizers announced that this year, they will expand the number of women vying in the talent competition, and they will bring back the “Miss Congeniality” award, but they will not eliminate the swimsuit competition -- a decision criticized by TV writers as sexist.

Panelist Lee Meriwether (Miss America 1955) agreed that it is tough to go out on stage in a skimpy outfit. In her pageant, she was advised by another contestant to get through that trauma (wearing a very modest one-piece costume) by imagining some of the audience in long johns with the trapdoors open.