US CABLE: GK-TV president Craig Cegielski tells Michael Pickard why a drama must reflect a cable network’s brand if it is to become appointment television.
The company’s latest project is Hurt People, a show developed with Petersen that is to be piloted by HBO-owned cablenet Cinemax.
The actor will play a veteran hitman forced to work for the crime family that killed his wife and ordered tohunt down his estranged daughter as she searches for her mother’s killers.
Other projects lined up at GK-TV include Port Royal, a pirate drama co-developed with Gale Anne Hurd’s Valhalla Entertainment at another cable channel, FX; and Dreamland, the Johnny Depp-produced series about the founder of The Hollywood Reporter, which is at Lifetime TV.
The production company was previously behind medieval drama Camelot, which aired for one season on premium pay-TV network Starz.
And as cable channels look to stand out from their rivals, GK-TV president Craig Cegielski believes networks are looking for signature series that can become appointment TV for viewers.
“We’re seeing a trend emerge as they’re doubling down and expanding their original programming across the week,” he tells C21. “Cable networks, whether AMC, DirecTV, Lifetime or even Sundance Channel, are continuing to grow their original scripted series.”
At each network, however, producers face the challenge of knowing who they are pitching to and what their target audience is. “It’s a phenomenal time to be a producer, to be out pitching television, but you have to be much more aware of the brand you’re pitching to, because they’ve become much more specific,” Cegielski explains. “This has become a diverse marketplace with networks using targeted programming to not only find an audience but maintain and grow it.”
For networks hoping to join this trend for original programming, however, their challenge is to make the economics add up. Cegielski, who previously worked as Lionsgate’s exec VP of international television programming and sales, says networks are now scrambling to reverse their previous acquisition-heavy content strategies to fund original series.
“The trend is now to fund the original and try to find a strategic acquisition to bolster your programming schedule. Nascent networks that are emerging are having to reverse that trend of high-priced acquisitions and low-cost originals,” he says.
“If you’ve got a proven winner in a syndicated series, it may be difficult for emerging broadcasters to put their faith in an original creative series and hope for the best.”
The US broadcast networks continue to deliver strong ratings with veteran procedural shows such as the NCIS or CSI franchises, even though the latter has now lost its Miami franchise. New pick-ups including Vegas, Elementary and Golden Boy – all coming to CBS – should maintain this trend.
However, other dramas such as ABC’s Once Upon A Time and NBC’s Grimm are evidence of a shift towards “serialised, cable-type programming,” according to Cegielski. He adds, however, that while the networks might be looking over their shoulder at cable, the same cannot be said for cable networks taking inspiration from the Big Five.
“Cable’s not looking to compete with broadcast networks for traditional procedural drama such as NCIS,” Cegielski explains. “They’re looking to do rich storytelling that may be more serialised, like The Killing. Their need is to be very unique, very loud and noisy. They’re not available to people in middle America who only have rabbit ears [old television antennas].
“They require someone who has invested in cable set-top boxes or satellite dishes, who wants something other than what you’re getting from the broadcast networks. So there are more networks clamouring for a piece of that audience and your shows have to be noisy, provocative and daring to satisfy the appetite of that consumer.”
What then of video-on-demand sites like Netflix, Hulu, YouTube and Amazon, each with their own original content strategies that threaten to tear more viewers away from their traditional TV screen and distribute their content through an increasing array of new devices?
Cegielski admits these companies are on their list of people to pitch to, but adds they offer producers an interesting proposition as the algorithms they use to suggest content to their subscribers means programmes can be put in front of those people most interested in watching them.
“We will continue to watch pay-TV networks evolve from film channels to original series channels, and Netflix, Hulu, Amazon and others are absolutely going to grow in that direction,” he adds.
This feature is part of C21′s US Cable Programming season, a collection of articles about what’s in development at US cablenets and what their move into original drama means for studios and broadcasters. Click here for more.