Semi-Annual Television Critics’ Tour Highlights Diversity and Depth of Cable Programming
The Nation After September 11 Provides One Theme for Cable Efforts
Nineteen programming companies this week previewed and described hundreds of hours of original programs that will air on dozens of cable channels later this year. Members of the Television Critics Association (TCA) were briefed by programming talent and cable network executives here at the semiannual "Critics’ Tour." The cable-exclusive portion of the tour, managed by the National Cable & Telecommunications Association (NCTA) in partnership with TCA and NCTA-member programming companies, commenced on Tuesday, July 9, and concludes today.
"We’ve been witness this week to a parade of programming that benefits from attributes unique to cable – flexible formats, creative freedom, and strongly committed network audiences," said Jill Luckett, Vice President, Program Network Policy, NCTA. "The critics and journalists here will provide their own analyses of the content that’s been previewed. Whether the reviews are good, bad, or indifferent, there’s no denying the networks’ efforts to please their viewers with quality productions that set cable apart from broadcast and other entertainment media."
Even as the cable networks were demonstrating product to further expand their audiences, recent viewership data as reported in trade and consumer publications, showed cable extending its viewership lead over the four major broadcast networks. Those reports showed cable networks in June 2002 capturing 54 percent of the total prime-time viewing audience, compared to 35 percent for the broadcast networks. In addition, the Cabletelevision Advertising Bureau (CAB) has cited television ratings data showing that ad-supported cable networks have earned more than 50 percent of the primetime viewing share for six consecutive weeks.
Cable networks this week demonstrated the increasing value of cable programming through these and other examples of upcoming quality original programs (listed in the order in which they were presented to TCA members):
- Oxygen introduced Candice Checks It Out, a new weekly series hosted by five-time Emmy Award-winning Candice Bergen. The field-based program, in which the host goes on-location to "check out" extraordinary people and subjects of interest to her, pairs Bergen with non-celebrity subjects in their everyday environments.
- Hallmark Channel unveiled its movie Johnson County War starring Burt Reynolds, Luke Perry and Tom Berenger in an epic story, reminiscent of the great classic Westerns, of one homesteading family's struggle to survive in the burgeoning cattle business amid their competitors' efforts to thwart them.
- E! Entertainment presented The Anna Nicole Show, a new weekly reality-based series featuring the life of the outlandish model/playmate/pop culture sensation Anna Nicole Smith.
- ESPN featured a preview of the ESPY Awards, hosted by Samuel L. Jackson. The 10th annual program, which aired July 10, assembled athletes and entertainment celebrities to recognize top achievements in sports, relive the memorable moments, and salute the best performers and performances in sports.
- USA Network highlighted Murder in Greenwich, an adaptation of Mark Fuhrman's book by the same title, which explores the Michael Skakel case.
- SCI FI Channel introduced Steven Spielberg Presents Taken, an unprecedented 20-hour television miniseries comprising 10, two-hour segments that are both self-contained and serial in nature. It's produced by SCI FI Channel, DreamWorks Television and Steven Spielberg. The saga, which follows three families as they grapple with the secret world of alien abduction, features Joel Gretsh, Catherine Dent, and Eric Close.
- BBC America offers the male answer to Sex and the City in its sophisticated new comedy-drama Manchild, starring Nigel Havers and Anthony Stewart Head.
- Veteran talk-show host Phil Donahue previewed his return to television -- after a six-year absence -- on MSNBC's nightly (Monday-Friday) series Donahue, which will feature interviews with newsmakers, reporters and analysts.
- Court TV presented The Interrogation of Michael Crowe, the network's second issue-based original movie production. Ally Sheedy stars in this program based on the DuPont-Columbia Award-winning documentary that examined the coerced confession of teenager Michael Crowe.
- Food Network introduced a variety of appetizing new lifestyle programs and specials, such as Top 5, a culinary pop-culture countdown hosted by Bobby Rivers.
- Raven (formerly known as Raven-Symone of The Cosby Show) highlighted her starring role in Disney Channel's new sitcom That's So Raven, featuring a winsome teen whose ability to glimpse flashes of the future often gets her into hot water.
- Discovery Channel featured James Cameron's Expedition: Bismarck (working title) in which the writer, director and producer of the Oscar-winning Titanic documents the dramatic World War II story of the DKM Bismarck that took 1,400 lives when it sank in the North Atlantic.
- BRAVO introduced its highly touted drama series, Breaking News, directed by Ken Olin and starring Tim Matheson, Lisa Ann Walter and Clancy Brown, capturing the inner-workings of a 24-hour news network.
- A&E introduced its original movie Lathe of Heaven, based on novelist Ursula K. KeGuin's modern masterpiece of supernatural suspense. Lukas Haas and David Strathairn star in this drama set in a society of the future.
- The History Channel profiled its special presentation Fire On the Mountain, based on John MacLean's critically-acclaimed book, and focusing on the Chicago Tribune reporter's investigation of the true circumstances behind the tragic brush fire on Storm King Mountain.
- Lifetime introduced its series, For the People, featuring Lea Thompson, Debbi Morgan, A Martinez and Cecilia Suarez, and depicting the diverse professional and personal lives of strong, passionate women in the Los Angeles District Attorney's office, who find themselves on opposite ends of the political spectrum -- yet who pursue a common goal.
- Showtime previewed its film production of Bang Bang You're Dead, recipient of "Best Feature [Voted by the Audience]" at the 2002 Nantucket Film Festival, which explores the disturbing epidemic of school violence as seen through the eyes of a student who is both a victim and at risk of becoming a perpetrator. Ben Foster, Tom Cavanaugh, Janel Moloney and Randy Harrison star in this "Original Picture for All Ages."
- Turner Broadcasting featured a look at Connie Chung Tonight, hosted by Connie Chung of CNN News Group.
- Comedy Central previewed upcoming plans for the seventh season of its Emmy- and Peabody-award winning series The Daily Show with Jon Stewart.
- HBO chronicled its 13-week episodic series, The Wire, which follows a single sprawling investigation from the point of view of the police and their targets. The program, executive-produced by David Simon and Robert F. Colesberry, stars Dominic West, Sonja Sohn and Larry Guilliard, Jr.
While the content of previewed programming clearly varies and is dictated largely by network niches, this summer's tour also showed that the nation’s recovery from the terrorist attacks of last September 11 is providing one theme for programs under development by several cable networks.
Two short films produced for Oxygen – A Smile Gone, But Where? and The Women of Rockaway Beach – examine the process of loss and recovery, and will air on September 11, 2002. In a unique twist, BBC America will introduce Ground Force: New York, a look at the transformation by gardening of lots in New York City neighborhoods, as a tool in rejuvenating the city. Travel Channel’s Airport: On Alert will chronicle with actual documentary footage the activities and responses of the nation’s airports on and after September 11. And, in reintroducing Phil Donahue to a sustained national television audience through its new nightly news interview program, Donahue, MSNBC reported that Donahue was lured back to television partly in response to the events of September 11 and their impact on the content and reporting of news. These were just some of the programs previewed this week that relate to, or were influenced by, September 11.
Cable networks as a group will next brief TCA members January 7-9, 2003, at the Hollywood Renaissance Hotel in Hollywood, CA.
NCTA is the principal trade association of the cable television industry in the United States. NCTA represents cable operators serving more than 90 percent of the nation's cable television households and more than 200 cable program networks, as well as equipment suppliers and providers of other services to the cable industry.