Los Angeles -- Every network can use a signature series,
according to Turner Network Television. So executives of the basic-cable network are in
the process of birthing its equivalent of ER.
TNT made its reputation with sports and movies, especially Westerns.
But the new series will be hour-long dramas, targeted toward adults aged 25 to 54, and
the subjects will be distinctly "contemporary American." A total of 10 potential
series are currently in various stages of development.
As TNT moves into its second decade, it, like all networks, needs greater definition,
president Brad Siegel said. Since the network will continue to rely on its core
programming, it will have the time to nurture a series through development, and it will
not schedule something until it is ready, he added.
Despite the high costs, TNT is moving into the genre with plans for development of the
most expensive type of hour: ensemble pieces.
Siegel and other TNT executives defended the move, noting that the network does not
need to order the tonnage that a broadcast network does to fill its primetime hours.
A broadcaster might buy 24 pilots, place orders for only 12 episodes and watch eight
fail. TNT's plan is for perhaps two series launches per year, beginning next June. Initial
orders will be smaller than those of a broadcast network - say, six episodes, rather than
22 for a full network season.
Star vehicles are not in the master plan, either. "The stars will be the
creators," and not the actors, executive vice president of original programming Julie
TNT faces a real challenge in finding breakthrough material. The series will be subject
to content standards and practices similar to those used by broadcast networks for shows
in the 10 p.m. time slot.
Vice president of original series Barbara Wall said focus groups make no distinction
between basic- and premium-cable networks when it comes to content. So executives must
find material that is edgier than broadcast programming, but not as racy as Home Box
Office or Showtime fare.
Financing is another challenge. Three-quarters of TNT's movie budgets traditionally
come from international production partners.
The network promised production budgets for its series comparable with those of
broadcast networks, but with "seriously reduced" licensing fees. Financing for
the series will have to come from different sources, given the U.S.- focused content, but
Siegel insisted there is still international interest in series acquisition.
The executives added that they would not keep the content search "in the
family." The first series to receive a pilot order - Bull, a Wall Street-themed drama
- will come from sister company Warner Bros. Television, and three series are from another
sibling, New Line Television. But six more are from sources outside of Time Warner Inc.
The development slate also includes:
Power: Set in Las Vegas, it's the fictional biography of power broker in the
mold of casino developer Steve Wynn. It will be written by Nicholas Pileggi (GoodFellas,
Breaking News: The concept is "ER in a newsroom," executives said.
South Camelot: A fantasy-adventure series set in South Miami that is an allegory
on the tales of the Knights of the Round Table.
And the network has just opened talks with veteran director John Frankenheimer, who has
done several lauded cable movies (including TNT's Andersonville), to possibly develop a
TNT has not decided on time or date slots for the future series, but will offer
multiple showings of episodes each week. Audiences like different ways to find a show,