CHICAGO (thefutoncritic.com) -- The Television Critics Association began its summer press tour this week in which the various broadcast and cable networks talk about their upcoming plans to the nation's top critics and entertainment reporters. The first week of the annual three week tour is devoted to cable as Tuesday saw Trio, ABC Cable Network Group, ABC Family, Rainbow Networks, MTV Networks (CMT, MTV, MTV2, Nickelodeon/Nick at Nite, TNN, TV Land, VH1), Bravo, Universal Television Group (Sci Fi Channel and USA) and Fine Living all holding sessions for the press.
Here's a breakdown of the highlights of each network's presentation:
BRAVO -- The NBC-owned cable channel pushed its off-network acquisition of "The West Wing," which will be launched as part of its "West Wing Weekend" on August 7-10. In addition to a six-hour marathon of the series (Sunday, August 10 beginning at 11 a.m. eastern), Bravo will air the three-hour documentary "All the Presidents' Movies" (Thursday, August 7 at 7:00/6:00c), spotlighting the various president's relationship with movies over the years. Also set for the lauch: broadcasts of Aaron Sorkin's "The American President" (Saturday, August 9 at 8:00/7:00c), Clint Eastwood's "Absolute Power" (Friday, August 8 at 8:00/7:00c) and a special episode of "Inside the Actors Studio" featuring Martin Sheen (Sunday, August 10 at 8:00/7:00c). "The West Wing" will then go on to be stripped Monday-Thursday at 7:00/6:00c and 11:00/10:00c beginning Monday, August 11.
Bravo also revealed its plans for four new pilots (via press release):
Developed and produced by Sean Hayes and producing partner Todd Milliner, "underExposed" is a pilot for a film-based reality contest. Two up-and-coming filmmakers are chosen per episode to compete against each other by shooting a four-minute short film -- from the exact same script written by an experienced screenwriter. The filmmakers then shoot their films over three days in their own hometowns with a fixed production budget of $10,000. The finished shorts are screened for a panel of expert judges and a winner is chosen to move on to the finals.
"But I Played One on TV" sees real actors reprise the job that their character performed while on television. In one possible scenario, Judd Hirsch might actually drive a taxicab much like his character of Alex on "Taxi." The three actors per episode face surprise challenges and are graded by actual professionals in the field. The celebrities will compete for prize money to be donated to their favorite charities. The series pilot is produced by KPI (Bravo�s "Page to Screen"). Bill Hunt, Vinnie Kralyevich and Kristy Sabat are the development executives.
"Ready, Set, Van Gogh" is an "extreme arts" competitive reality show that could be generally expressed as a cross among "Junkyard-Wars"-meets-"Iron-Chef"-meets-the-arts. Dani Behr ("Extra") hosts as each episode will feature three different arts competitions, with a trio of professional artists competing to win at their respective specialty. The pilot will feature chainsaw tree carving, beach sand sculpture and junk art. With the clock ticking -- and no prep time -- artists have to create a mesmerizing work that will be judged by a panel of experts versed in the same art forms to determine the winner. Subsequent episodes will follow other extreme art forms, including graffiti, pavement and body art. "Ready, Set, Van Gogh" is a one-hour pilot to be produced by GRP Productions (Gay Rosenthal).
In "Rewind," Bravo offers a new and fresh storytelling take on the popular celebrity biography genre as each subject�s story is told in reverse with clips, and interview footage. Each episode starts at a specific moment in a celebrity�s life, possibly when the subject is winning an award for excellence in their designated discipline. For example, each episode could open a celebrity winning an Oscar, an Emmy or a Grammy Award then proceed to highlight the subject�s life story in reverse chronological order. The first part will focus on the quest for the award or honor - such as what might have happened on the long red carpet that led to public acclaim. The personal back-story will follow until viewers have taken a sentimental journeyed all the way back to childhood. The accent of the series will be to determine how the element of destiny sets celebrities apart, especially when underscored by the significance of their award. Danny Tepper is the producer of "Rewind."
Also on tap at Bravo is the gay dating series "Boy Meets Boy." The series is set to premiere Tuesday, July 29 at 9:00/8:00c. The six-week project will be paired with "Queer Eye for the Straight Guy" which airs at 10:00/9:00c beginning July 15.
MTV -- The music channel announced it has picked up "The Osbournes" for a third season of 20 episodes. The dysfunctional clan will return in early winter 2004 for the fresh installments as the series will follow, among other things, Sharon's launch of her nationally syndicated talk show. Despite sagging ratings, the series has averaged nearly 3 million viewers each week this summer making it one of MTV's most watched on the channel.
The cable channel also hyped its upcoming original movie, "Wuthering Heights," which recently wrapped production. Based on the Emily Bronte book of the same name, the project stars Erika Christensen ("Traffic"), Mike Vogel ("Texas Chainsaw Massacre"), Chris Masterson ("Malcolm in the Middle"), Katherine Heigl ("Roswell") and Johnny Whitworth ("The Rainmaker"). The two-hour movie, directed by Suri Krishnamma ("A Man of No Importance," "New Year's Day") from a script by Max Enscoe & Annie de Young ("Prince William"), will air in September 2003.
Lastly, MTV profiled its forthcoming reality series "Newlyweds," which will chronicle the first year of marriage of recording artists Jessica Simpson and Nick Lachey. The series kicks off Tuesday, August 19 at 10:30/9:30c. (MTV had originally announced the series as airing Mondays at 10:30/9:30c starting August 4). R. Greg Johnston, Lois Curren and Rod Aissa are executive producing the project with Larry Rudolph and Joe Simpson serving as producers.
NICKELODEON/NICK AT NITE -- "Roseanne" is set to join the Nick at Nite lineup beginning Sunday, September 21 with a five-night marathon. Episodes will run that week every night from 9:00 p.m. to 6:00 a.m. eastern. The series then begins its regular run of double plays from 11:00 p.m. to 12:00 a.m. and 2:00-3:00 a.m. every night starting Friday, September 26.
Also joining the Nick at Nite lineup this fall is "Full House." The family comedy will also kick off its run with a marathon (Monday, October 6 through Thursday, October 9 from 9:00 p.m. to 12:00 a.m. eastern) before settling into its regular time slot (9:00 and 9:30 p.m. Sunday-Thursday starting Sunday, October 12).
SCI FI CHANNEL -- Sci Fi continued to push its profitable Saturday movies as the cable network will up its production to 22 originals for the 2004-05 season with about two airing each month. In 2002, said movies averaged a 1.4 household rating, 40% higher than the channel's primetime average. Eight new telefilms were introduced (via press release):
"Dead Rail": Deadly aliens arrive on Earth and board a bullet train on its inaugural run to Las Vegas. Once a detective on board realizes the danger, he must overcome his haunted past to destroy the aliens before they can leave the train. Written by Brian Smith, founder of SCIFI.COM�s Seeing Ear Theatre, and produced by Glow Worm.
"Darklight": A genetically-engineered creature carrying a deadly virus escapes from a secret lab and goes on a rampage, spreading the virus in the process. To stop the virus from reaching epidemic proportions, "Lilith" is recruited. A superhuman warrior cursed with immortality, "Lilith" must defeat the creature before it infects the entire planet. Directed by Bill Platt, former development executive for SCI FI Channel�s short-film series Exposure. Production begins in Sofia, Bulgaria with UFO Films in July 2003.
"Chupacabra": The mythical Chupacabra is captured and smuggled aboard a cruise ship en route to America. The creature escapes from its crate and begins killing the ship�s passengers. Navy SEALs are brought in to destroy the monster before the boat reaches dock. Produced by Regent Films.
"Raptor Island": Raptors are discovered on a remote island when an elite team journeys deep into the jungle to rescue a kidnapped scientist. Produced by 100% Entertainment.
"Mansquito": A scientist trying to find a cure for the West Nile Virus accidentally transforms herself and a junkie into mutant mosquito creatures. To save the world from the crazy mutant, the scientist must find and destroy the other �mansquito.� Produced by Nu Image.
"Alien Blood": An alien army invades Earth, demanding the sacrifice of one million humans. In exchange, the aliens offer biological tools that could cure disease and neutralize ecological dangers. But, a small band of the human prisoners begin a rebellion to stop the extraterrestrial attack. Produced by UFO Films.
"Larva": A dirty meatpacking company becomes overrun with larva but still sells the contaminated meat. Customers get more than they bargained for when the larva begins growing inside them. Produced by Nu Image.
"Hammerhead": While working on stem-cell research, a scientist transforms his subject into a mutant shark-beast. Having been kicked out of a secret organization, he invites his former colleagues to his lab and proceeds to use the creature to exact his revenge. Produced by Nu Image.
Also getting hyped was Sci Fi's upcoming mini-series "Battlestar Galactica," which premieres December 7. The channel also plans a special Halloween-themed one-hour episode of "Scare Tactics" in October (exact date TBA). New episodes of the series will continue to run from now through the end of September.
TNN -- The big news for the Viacom channel was that filmmaker Spike Lee has dropped his lawsuit against the channel, allowing TNN to go forward with its name change to Spike TV. In a statement to the media, Lee said, "On reviewing the circumstances concerning the name change of the network, I no longer believe that Viacom deliberately intended to trade on my name when naming Spike TV. As an artist and a filmmaker, I feel that protection of freedom of expression is a critical value and I am concerned that my efforts to stop Viacom from using the Spike TV name could have the unintended consequence of threatening the First Amendment rights of Viacom and others. I am pleased to be able to resolve this matter and be able to work with Viacom on new projects." Viacom responded with a statement saying "We are pleased to put aside our differences with such a highly respected and influential creative talent as Mr. Lee and we are delighted to have resolved this lawsuit with him." No date was given for the official name change.
In programming news, TNN revealed "Go Inside: Animal House," a new one-hour documentary celebrating the 25th anniversary of the film "Animal House." The special airs Sunday, August 24 at 9:00/8:00c with an encore on Wednesday, August 27 at 9:00/8:00c. Also on tap is "The Joe Schmo Show" (Sundays at 9:00/8:00c starting September 7), a new reality series that tries to have some fun with the reality genre. The project tracks law-school dropout Matt Kennedy Gould who's convinced he's been cast on a "Big Brother"-style reality show called "Lap of Luxury" in which the winner receives $100,000. In reality, he's actually the focus of a big prank, as his housemates and competitors are actually actors - manipulating him for all the laughs they can muster. Stone Stanley Entertainment is behind the series, which was created by screenwriter Rhett Reese ("Monsters Inc.") and producer Paul Wernick ("The Chair"). KROQ-FM morning personality Ralph Garman is set to host.
TRIO -- The upstart cable network plans to turn its well-received "Brilliant But Canceled" documentary into an ongoing series this September. The new weekday strip launches on Labor Day (Monday, September 1 at 8:00/7:00c) and will feature never-aired pilots in its first week including "Fargo" starring a pre-"Sopranos" Edie Falco, the half-hour comedy "Beat Cops" and "Savage," the 1973 Steven Spielberg-directed program starring Martin Landau and Barbara Bain. (Additional pilots will be announced closer to September.) Subsequent weeks will be devoted to airing episodes of "brilliant but canceled" series, much like the network did back in December. To help launch the new block, Trio will air "Brilliant But Canceled: Pilot Season," a new 90-minute documentary about the pitch and creation process of television series.
As for the rest of its weekday schedule, "Brilliant" bumps Trio's "Sessions At West 54th" to 7:00/6:00c on that date. The "Sharp Documentary" block however will continue at 9:00/8:00c as will "Late Night with David Letterman" at 10:00/9:00c.
The network also announced it will premiere "September 11," a "critically-acclaimed collection of emotionally stirring fictional and experimental film shorts are directed by 11 renowned directors from around the world who bring into play their own culture, memories and stories of the tragic events of that day." The two-hour presentation will be aired commercial free on Thursday, September 11 at 9:00/8:00c.
Finally, Trio unveiled a new original documentary series: "24 w/." The series literally spends 24 hours with such pop culture icons Vera Wang, Harvey Fierstein, *NSYNC and Tina Brown. The first batch of episodes hits Sunday, October 19 and airs nightly through Saturday, October 25 (exact time TBA).
TV LAND -- The cabler hyped its first original animated special, "The Alan Brady Show." The half-hour special, which airs Sunday, August 17 at 10:00/9:00c, features the 12-time Emmy award winner Carl Reiner reprising his character � in voice-over -- from "The Dick Van Dyke Show." To celebrate, TV Land will spend the week leading up to the special with episodes of "The Dick Van Dyke Show" each night beginning Monday, August 11 to Saturday, August 16 from 9:00-10:00 p.m. eastern. And following "Brady" viewers can catch a rebroadcast of TV Land's original documentary "Inside TV Land: The Dick Van Dyke Show" at 10:30/9:30c.
USA -- The cable network announced it has renewed its talent search "Nashville Star" for a second season. The new season, set for the first quarter of 2004, will once again see country music hopefuls competing for a recording contract with a major record label. Reveille, a joint venture between Ben Silverman and Universal Television, will continue to produce the series in association with George Verschoor's Hoosick Falls Productions.
The channel will also add a new reality series this fall entitled "Dream House USA." The eight-week, one-hour series features four families competing to win their fantasy dream house. Denise Cramsey ("Trading Spaces") and Reveille's Ben Silverman ("The Restaurant") are behind the project, which has each family design their perfect home, room-by-room in just 24 days. A designer will assist each family as they must complete one room in their "dream" house each episode. The winning family will then actually have their house built. H.T. Owens, Mark Koops and Joel Klein ("Fear Factor") will serve as co-executive producers of the series along with Cramsey and Silverman.
The channel also revealed it has given its two-hour backdoor pilot "Touching Evil" a series order for midseason 2004. The project, based on the British Granada Television series, stars Jeffrey Donovan ("Book of Shadows: Blair Witch 2") as David Creegan, a detective who suffers a near fatal gunshot wound to the head only to return after a 12-month psychological leave to work for the F.B.I.'s new Organized and Serial Crime Unit, a rapid-response, elite crime squad. His brush with death renders him fearless in his relentless pursuit of justice as he and his partner Vera Farminga ("U.C.: Undercover") specialize in solving shocking, high profile crimes. Allen and Albert Hughes ("Menace II Society," "From Hell") are the executive producers of the series along with Arnold Rifkin ("Tears of the Sun," "Crocodile Hunter") and Bruce Willis ("Armageddon," "Die Hard"). Allen Hughes directed the pilot from a script by Bruno Heller ("The Huntress"). In total, 13 hours of the drama have been ordered.
Finally, USA announced production is underway on "Hidden In The Heartland: The Eric Rudolph Story," a new telefilm based on the true story of accused terrorist Eric Rudolph who was recently arrested after a five-year chase. Orly Adelson ("The Junction Boys" and USA forthcoming "D.C. Sniper") will executive produce the project with Jim Head and Jonathan Eskenas while Newsweek reporter Michael Isikoff and investigative journalist Michael Reynolds will serve as creative consultants. Cast and creative principals are expected to be announced shortly with the film scheduled to air in the fourth quarter of 2003.
VH1 -- The "other" music channel outlined a host of upcoming specials. Thursday will see the premiere of "Wendy Williams Is On Fire" (10:30/9:30c), a half-hour special in which the New York DJ "brings her no-holds barred style to glitzy red carpet events with stars like Justin Timberlake, Tyson Beckford and Pharell Williams and to candid one-on-one interviews with some of the biggest names in entertainment." Then on Sunday, August 24 look for "Inside Out: Warren Zevon" (10:00/9:00c), a new special hosted by Billy Bob Thornton about the singer/songwriter as he creates an album dedicated to saying goodbye to the people he loved after being diagnosed with mesothelioma, a rare type of terminal lung cancer. Included are interviews with Jackson Browne, Stevie Nicks, Mick Fleetwood, album producer Jorge Calderon and Warren's two children, including his daughter who is pregnant with twins.
And from Monday-Friday, August 18-22 at 9:00/8:00c, VH1 will present "I Love the '70s," an outrageous 10-hour, five-night flashback about the decade. "'70s" follows the channel's recent "I Love the '80s" and will include interviews with dozens of celebrities.
Session information on ABC Family, Rainbow Networks and Fine Living was not available.
Upcoming TCA schedule: Wednesday (July 9) - Tennis Channel, Discovery Networks, Comedy Central, HGTV, A&E Networks, Showtime; Thursday (July 10) - Turner, ESPN, HDTV panel, Lifetime, HBO.
This article was updated at 11:49 p.m. with additional information.