CBS creating unit to develop special live programs
PASADENA, Calif. (AP) — Illustrating changing tastes in television, CBS’s entertainment chief said Wednesday the network is making a special effort to develop miniseries and live “event” programming.
Following the success of its miniseries “Under the Dome” last summer, CBS hired a new executive, Stacy Mandelberg of Von Zerneck/Sertner Films, to oversee the effort, said network entertainment president Nina Tassler. The Stephen King series returns for its second season June 30.
Halle Berry also is signed for another short series, “Extant,” being made with producer Steven Spielberg. “Extant” debuts July 2 and features Berry as an astronaut returning to Earth pregnant with an alien baby.
CBS also quickly signed producers Mark Burnett and his wife, Roma Downey, to adapt the historical novel “The Dovekeepers” to television after their success with the History channel series “The Bible.”
“It gives you the opportunity to get more original projects on the air,” Tassler said.
Fox formed a similar department last year, and this summer’s revival of “24” will be its first effort. NBC has been particularly aggressive in this area, with projects that have been successful (the live remake of “The Sound of Music” in December) and less successful (the game show “The Million Second Quiz).”
Several trends are converging to make broadcast networks head in this direction. The increased amount of time-shifting by viewers has made event programming that can draw a live audience — awards shows, sporting events and “The Sound of Music” — much more valuable. To that end, CBS announced it would broadcast the Hollywood Film Awards as a precursor to the Oscars, which is annually one of the biggest events of the year for ABC.
Similarly, creators are more attracted to scripted programs that run shorter than broadcast’s usual 22-episode season because cable networks have been so successful at it.
Broadcast executives also realize that their tradition of quiet summers filled with little more than reruns is a thing of the past.
“It is both exhilarating and, I have to admit, exhausting at times,” Tassler said. She said the network has several other projects in development, attracting “marquee” names in production and acting.
CBS, the most popular and traditionalist of the broadcast networks, isn’t ready to completely shake up the business. Fox’s entertainment chief, Kevin Reilly, said Monday his network is doing away with the traditional pilot season, when dozens of prospective new shows film test episodes and network executives decide in early May which will become series and which will be thrown out.
Tassler said the system clearly has its weaknesses, but also produces a “wave of creative adrenaline” that takes ideas and whips them into shape as television programs.
“It’s frustrating,” she said, “but it’s also very exciting.”
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