Tuesday, April 29, 2003

Cable channel plan: All reality programs

By Lynn Elber
The Associated Press

The audience appetite for reality television could be tested by a planned cable channel that will offer a diet of all reality, all the time.

Reality Central, scheduled to debut in early 2004, is being developed by Larry Namer, co-founder of E! Entertainment Television, and Blake Mycoskie, a businessman who was a reality show contestant.

"Reality is now a genre, just like any other genre," Namer said.

"Right now it has a cultlike following, and we're not saying that's going to exist forever," he said. "But I think this type of programming will remain a genre just by the basic economics of it and what it does for a network."

Networks have found success with such hit series as Fox's American Idol and CBS' Survivor. The shows are especially popular among the young adult viewers favored by advertisers.

But the rush to capitalize on the trend, sometimes unsuccessfully (ABC's Are You Hot?), has raised questions about the genre's future.

Reality pioneer Bruce Nash, whose projects include Fox's current Mr. Personality with Monica Lewinsky, believes the genre is durable. He's less certain about how an all-reality channel will fare.

"It's an interesting idea. Whether it will work remains to be seen," Nash said. "I produce 120 hours of reality TV, but if I had to watch it all day I'd go nuts."

Reruns will represent half of Reality Central's programming. The rest will be behind-the-scenes looks at the shows and contestants, "all those things that feed the fan appetite," Namer said.

The channel plans to enhance the series repeats with commentary from contestants, such as Richard Hatch offering details on his winning Survivor strategy.

Reality "stars" including Hatch, fellow Survivor contestant Colby Donaldson and Trista Rehn and Ryan Sutter of The Bachelorette have signed on to promote the channel.

Prize winners from various shows were the first investors in the channel that has incurred about $1 million in startup costs so far, said Namer and Mycoskie, who was a runner-up on CBS' The Amazing Race. The investors were not identified.

Reality Central would join the ranks of other cable networks that target very specific audiences with mostly reruns, such as ESPN Classic and SoapNet.

It doesn't take many viewers for such channels to work. The business model for Reality Central is based on a 0.2 rating, or roughly 200,000 homes. Shows that score a 0.5 rating, about a half-million homes, "are big hits for cable," Namer said.

The channel will produce only one reality show: It will detail the development and launch of Reality Central, which is being documented on digital video.

"So the network itself is a reality show," Namer said.

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