Dramas set, cable attacks with emphasis on laughs

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While many cable networks took advantage of the summer lull to launch their original dramatic series, fall is turning out to be the season for new reality and comedic fare-especially as the broadcasters unveil schedules heavy on dramas and short on laughs.

"You have a lot of advertisers spending a lot of money on cable, but you're looking at the networks more than individual shows," says Ira Berger, director-national broadcast for the Richards Group in Dallas.

Comedy Central is betting on late-night programming, as viewers and advertisers continue to tune into TV's fastest-growing daypart. This past year ad-supported cable drew 6.8 million of the elusive 18-to-34-year-old viewers between 11 p.m. and 2 a.m., up from 6.2 million the year before, according to Nielsen Media Research, with men outnumbering women almost two to one on networks such as Spike TV, Comedy Central and Cartoon Network's Adult Swim. During that same time period, broadcast TV brought in 4.5 million in that age group.

"We tend to prefer the times when networks aren't launching [new programs], but we can't concentrate all of our shows at one time," says Lauren Corrao, senior VP-programming and development at the Viacom-owned network. "As basic cable continues to focus its brand and audience, we've found if you have the right programming your audience will come no matter when you put it on the air."

The network will be counting on big numbers from "Daily Show" spinoff "The Colbert Report," hosted by "Daily Show" correspondent Stephen Colbert, to help offset the unexpected departure of Dave Chappelle, who left his "Chappelle's Show" in the middle of taping the third season. Mr. Colbert will parody personality-driven news shows, such as "The O'Reilly Factor," and get a valuable lead-in: "The Daily Show."

"Comedy Central put itself on the map before Dave Chappelle, and it has plenty of good programming without him," says Shari Anne Brill, VP-director of programming for Carat USA. "Stephen Colbert is a riot, and I'm interested to see him in his own show."


TBS is taking advantage of a dearth of comedic sitcoms on broadcast to introduce British comedienne Daisy Donovan in "Daisy Does America," an unscripted comedy out of Courtney Cox and David Arquette's production company. The network is saving for November its stand-up special "Earth to America," filmed at the Aspen Comedy Festival. And VH1 is counting on more of its "celeb-reality" fare, such as "Breaking Bonaduce" and "My Fair Brady."

In the talk-show venue, Style Network is launching a new daily series "Isaac" in which fashionista Isaac Mizrahi hosts an hourlong lifestyle talk show covering everything from beauty to home and garden to love.

The network most buyers will be watching is also one with perhaps the most ambitious programming slate, Discovery's TLC, which is trying to rebuild itself after its former hit "Trading Spaces" dropped 30% in the ratings over the last year. TLC is betting heavily on a recent deal it signed with Martha Stewart Living Omnimedia to broadcast several of its shows, including a 13-part original home improvement series.

"The key for us as TLC transitions from post-`Trading Spaces' environment is having a robust development slate and being aggressive about it," says David Leavy, exec VP-corporate affairs and communications for Discovery. "We're very bullish about what we have."

The network is launching a slew of personality-drive reality fare, including "The Adam Carolla Project," a home makeover show starring the former "Loveline" host and carpenter, and "Going Hollywood," which follows three interns who work for actor Kevin Spacey's production company. Sibling network Discovery will be launching "Firehouse: Boston," a documentary-style reality show "I Shouldn't Be Alive" and "Driver X: Race for the Ride," a reality show that follows the Roush Racing Nascar team as it searches for its next team member to compete in the Craftsman Truck Series championship.

"We're trying to bring some of the emotion back to the network, through the storytelling techniques and the genres," says Mr. Leavy. "Some of it's laughing, some is crying, some spans in between. And I'm not sure there's much on the broadcast side that gets there."

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