US CABLE: Cablenet ReelzChannel has the slogan ‘TV About Movies’ and is picking up original series that fit the mould. Michael Pickard reports.
When A+E Networks channel History passed on The Kennedys, the political miniseries it had itself commissioned, it looked for some time as if the show would not find a US home.
The coproduction between Muse Entertainment and Asylum Entertainment had drawn criticism that it painted an unflattering picture of the US political clan, which in turn meant that other cablenets such as FX, Starz and Showtime also rejected it.
That left the door wide open for ReelzChannel, a privately owned cable channel based in Albuquerque, to come in to pick up the show. “That miniseries was radioactive,” Stan E Hubbard, CEO of Reelz, tells C21. “The big powerful media companies didn’t have the guts to pick it up. Nobody would touch it.
“So here’s this little upstart cable channel called Reelz. We looked at it and closed the deal. We didn’t make money from it because the advertising community was terrified of it, but we rode it out and all of a sudden we have millions of viewers who found us for a specific reason, were happy with what they saw and the door opened wide for us to be able to find other dramatic projects that can fit our focus.”
Since then, the network has set about building a slate of first-run content that will appeal to its growing audience. Similar to The Kennedys, though not for the same reason, Steven Seagal series True Justice didn’t have a US home, despite airing in Spain and the UK.
Continuing its shopping trip, in May the channel acquired World Without End, the eight-hour historical drama based on the novel by Ken Follett. It is produced by Germany’s Tandem Communications; Canada’s Take 5 Productions and Galafilm; Scott Free Films; and Hungary’s Mid Atlantic Films.
In conjunction with the series, Reelz will also take viewers behind the scenes of the show, looking at the careers of the actors involved, and showcase movies based on books, the Middle Ages, politics and religion.
Furthermore, Reelz has also picked up four-part Biblical miniseries Barabbas, based on the novel by Par Lagerkvist and produced by Italy’s Compagnia Leone Cinematografica.
Bomb Girls, the Second World War drama produced by Back Alley Film Productions and Canada’s Muse Entertainment, will also air on Reelz alongside Beverly Hills Pawn, the channel’s first half-hour reality series from Asylum Entertainment.
“In some ways we’re a newcomer to the cable drama business,” says Hubbard of the network that launched in 2006. “For a relative newcomer and a smaller player in the landscape, being able to have really strong international collaborations is critically important for us because we don’t have massive budgets and massive infrastructure. We have to do things with partners that can have the same vision we have and a good producer in the middle to pull all the pieces together.”
Hubbard says Reelz is looking to air four or five original series or miniseries each year alongside its off-network programming, which includes library series Spin City and Cheers alongside its slate of movies.
And becoming the US broadcast partner on an international coproduction is certainly one way to keep costs down, as the slice of funding you are expected to contribute is dramatically reduced while you can still lead the project from its embryonic stages.
“We’d like to do it with our own cash financing but we’ll look at other models and are looking to find partners to pick up the international share of what we’re doing,” Hubbard says. “We’re interested in big stories. If they have some hook to the movies we like that, but big stories are what we like to tell.”
In an increasingly competitive cable market, with more and more channels turning to original programming to help them stand out on the EPG, it is those big stories that bring in viewers.
Hubbard adds that, in particular, it is original drama that can redefine your network. “It can define an audience and they can become must-see TV,” he says. “Particularly for smaller to medium-sized networks, it’s programming that can stand out and help people find the channel.”
In little over a year since it acquired The Kennedys, Reelz has dramatically increased its portfolio of original series. And by also moving into factual entertainment for the first time, this cable network shows no sign of slowing down.