Sundance Branching Out

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New York -- Looking to broaden its programming palette, Sundance Channel is ramping up development on a wide range of projects.

The network, with some 23 million subscribers, is looking to add a comedy, a limited series and a talk-show format to its usual mix of independent films and documentaries in 2006.

Culture Shock, in a weekly talk-show format, will satirize and critique the media, its spin and manipulation; Addict Nation is a limited documentary series following five people hooked on prescription drugs, shopping, sex, plastic surgery and gambling, respectively; The Whitest Kids U Know will traipse between sketch comedy and a mockumentary behind-the-scenes look at five 20-something comedians; and Best Documentaries is an improvisational comedy series tracking filmmaker Michael Gregory Best making mock documentaries about topical cultural subjects.

Executive vice president of programming and marketing Laura Michalchyshyn, speaking at a press gathering here Monday, said Sundance will move toward a lineup composed 75% of features and documentaries, with the balance of the slate devoted to original productions, limited series, high-profile one-off shows and events and acquisitions.

As for acquired fare, Sundance officials talked up Slings & Arrows, a Canadian series taking a humorous look at the inner workings of a dysfunctional Shakespearean-theater festival, which will bow Aug. 7 at 8 p.m. In December, Sundance will run the third season of hit Australian comedy Kath & Kim.

On the marketing side, Sundance will sport a new tag line: “For a change.” Company officials suggested that it will have several meanings: alternate, different programming; that Sundance is a different network now; and that the service conveys a strong point of view.

Although the network will begin using the tag line now, it won’t get prominent airplay until September, according to a spokesman.

Marketing chief Kirk Iwanowski said that for the balance of the year, Sundance will provide significant support behind the second season of The Al Franken Show, which bowed June 6; TransGeneration, which will chronicle the lives of four college undergraduates undergoing a gender transition, in September; and Iconoclasts in November.

In addition to print and radio backing, these projects will benefit from promos on networks controlled by owners NBC Universal and Viacom Inc.

Franken’s second season will also be trumpeted by video streams to Apple.com (www.apple.com), as well as weekly podcasts that will be available on Apple’s iTunes, according to network officials.

Iconcoclasts, which will pair notables from different walks of life, will include teaser materials in 13 Condé Nast titles this September, before an eight-page pictorial of the subjects appears in the same books in November.

Sundance officials said the series, shooting of which begins in July, will feature chef Mario Batali discussing the passions and creative processes of REM singer Michael Stipe; fashion designer Tom Ford on artist Jeff Koons; author Jonathan Safran Foer on filmmaker Michael Gondry; actor Samuel L. Jackson on basketball great Bill Russell; and producer Brian Grazer on Viacom chairman and CEO Sumner Redstone.

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