In the midst of a programming revamping, The Nashville
Network is jumping on the bandwagon with cable's hottest trend: scripted fictional
TNN will debut its first original dramatic series, 18
Wheels of Justice,in January. The network, part of CBS Cable, has acquired 22
episodes of the hour-long weekly action series from Eyemark Entertainment, which, like
TNN, is part of CBS Corp.
TNN is in the process of expanding its program lineup
beyond music and videos, to offer wider entertainment fare for a broader audience than
just country-music fans. And 18 Wheels fits into that game plan.
"Without question, we've had a enormous amount of
success with licensed drama properties, like Dallas and The Waltons,"
TNN vice president of programming Brian Hughes said. "So we've had the desire to
do something in the form of an [original] long-form drama,"
TNN will debut other shows early next year, according to
Hughes, but he wouldn't specify what they are yet.
New series 18 Wheels began production in Southern
California last month, with a cast that includes Lucky Vanous, Billy Dee Williams and G.
Vanous portrays a special agent for the Department of
Justice who goes underground to escape the reach of a crime boss. He hits the highway
disguised as a trucker, traveling in a state-of-the-art Kenworth Truck Co.
"T2000." Liddy plays the crime boss.
Scripted fictional series and hour-long dramas are the
hottest trends in cable now. Sci Fi Channel just unveiled its plans for 20 episodes of Lexx,
an hour-long drama about four misfits who have inadvertently stolen a powerful weapon: a
genetically modified insect named the Lexx. It will debut in January.
And USA Network early next year will premiere hour-long
drama Just Act Normal,about an undercover agent for the Federal Bureau of
Investigation. Shaun Cassidy is the show's writer and executive producer. Production
on Just Act Normal,tentatively slated to air Tuesday nights,starts
TNN's new 18 Wheels will also feature music and
cameo and guest appearances by known and emerging country-music artists. For example, the
show's premiere episode will feature the debut of a new video by MCA Records artist
Hughes pointed out that country artists have increasingly
been making appearances on TV series, like Tricia Yearwood on JAG.
As part of its strategy to widen its audience by expanding
beyond country music and into "country lifestyle" programming, this past summer,
TNN canceled a number of long-running shows that focused on country music.
It also acquired a package of 38 theatricals to use as the
base for a primetime-movie night on Thursdays, to go along with its past acquisitions of
off-network series The Waltons, Dallas, The Dukes of Hazzard, The
Real McCoys and Alice. The movie block, called "Sofa Cinema,"
premiered Sept. 30.
"The long-term evolution has been one of growing our
business through our extension into country lifestyle," Hughes said. "We want to
do a variety of programming that appeals to as large an audience as possible."
Not everyone likes those changes. One cable operator
complained that the network is straying away from its original mandate and becoming just
another broad-based entertainment network, with fare such as wrestling.
One of the cornerstones of TNN's new programming tack
has been its creation of a male-targeted Friday-night "Thrill Zone" block that
includes WSL RollerJam, Professional Bull Riders Championship Rodeo,
Motor Madness and Extreme Championship Wrestling.
TNN's ratings for men 18 to 34 are up 224 percent for
its ECWshow, compared with what the time slot was averaging earlier this year,
before the show went on the air, according to network officials.
But in the third quarter, TNN's primetime ratings were
down 13 percent, to a 0.7 from a 0.8 a year ago, according to Nielsen Media Research.
Eyemark is known for its work as a syndicator-producer for
shows such as James Brolin's Pensacola: Wings of Gold. But 18 Wheels will
mark the first scripted drama Eyemark has done for an outlet other than syndication,
according to senior vice president of business and program development Robb Dalton.
Dalton added that Eyemark and TNN are in touch often
because they are both part of CBS. "They wanted to get into scripted dramas," he
said. "We came across this project and it looked perfect for them."
TNN did an original movie in 1988, Nashville Beat,
which starred Martin Milner, according to Hughes. But he noted that doing an original
series requires a lot more resources.
In the case of 18 Wheels,part of its costs
will be offset by international sales, he said, adding, "International is part of the