The Turner cable networks want to play with the big boys.
TNT, TBS and TruTV have announced their most ambitious plans for original programming ever and, for the first time, will present new schedules to advertisers the same week as the broadcast networks in May.
TNT has 14 new series in development, the network said Monday. Within two years, the drama-oriented network plans to have all original series in prime-time for at least three days a week.
TNT has gradually added new series like “Saving Grace” and “The Closer” to a schedule dominated by reruns of long-dead broadcast network shows.
Two new shows already given the go-ahead are “Raising the Bar,” a legal thriller produced by Steven Bochco, and “Leverage,” which stars Timothy Hutton leading a group of high-tech Robin Hoods. Eric McCormack and Tom Cavanagh are featured in “Truth in Advertising,” about an ad firm in Chicago.
The network is also trying to break into nonscripted series, like “Wedding Day,” a Mark Burnett series that tries to make brides’ dreams come true.
TBS is more reliant on reruns but considers that a strength, given the dearth of popular new sitcoms. Five of the eight new series it has in development are for late-night, including a revival of the game show “Match Game.”
TruTV, the former Court TV that now concentrates on real-life series, has 10 projects in development. They include series that follow the lives of a school principal, ski patrol member, helicopter rescue pilot in Maui and news helicopter pilot in Los Angeles. All of the Turner networks are owned by Time Warner Inc.
Turner wants its robust group of series in development to stand as a contrast to the broadcast networks, which scaled down their pilot seasons because of the writers strike, said Steve Koonin, Turner Entertainment Networks President.
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TBS is the third most-popular cable network this season, behind USA and ESPN. TNT is fourth, and TruTV is 15th, according to Nielsen Media Research. TBS is averaging 2.2 million viewers in prime-time and TNT has 2 million, which puts them roughly on par with the CW broadcast network.
By presenting its schedule announcements for May 14 — the same week that the big broadcast networks unveil schedules to advertisers — Turner is making a statement that it belongs in the same league financially.
“The over-dependence on broadcast, which has been going on for years now, has to stop,” Koonin said.
In past years, the Turner networks have done things to attract attention like hire the Eagles for a private show to advertisers. Cable networks traditionally make presentations to advertisers in the months prior to the broadcasters. Advertisers then make decisions on how to spend billions of ad dollars for the fall.
The risk for Turner is getting its message lost in the mix of a busy week.