Here! comes a lot of originality

200-plus hours of fresh fare on tap for this season

Here! -- the premium network aimed at gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender audiences -- has ramped up its original programming efforts with several series renewals. It also has recently greenlighted original movies in the wake of strengthened distribution.

The network approved more seasons of several original series, including second installments of "The Lair" and "The DL Chronicles" and a third season of "Paradise Falls." In addition, Chad Allen will star as a private investigator in two fresh cases of its "Donald Strachey Mystery" movie franchise. 

These pickups -- along with the recently announced series "Ryan's Life," starring Rue McClanahan, and a third-season renewal of "Dante's Cove" -- mean that Here! will field more than 200 hours of original programming for the 2007-08 season, with five of its series entering a second or third season.

Meanwhile, the network has in the works a movie titled "Solar Flare," the first of 12 eco-disaster films that will be released in theaters by sister company Regent a week before debuting on Here! The movie, starring Tracey Gold and Michelle Clunie, centers on a scientist (Gold) who works with a mother (Clunie) and her prodigy son, who has worked out a formula for predicting solar flares.

Also in the works is "House of Usher," the second planned installment in a series of 12 movies based on Edgar Allan Poe tales following "The Raven." It will premiere on Here! a week after making its debut in theaters.

"We have made a huge commitment to original programming with established stars," Here! Networks founder and CEO Paul Colichman said. "It's the same as any other major broadcast network."

The ramped-up slate also comes as Here! -- established in 2002 -- has beefed up its distribution. It's now in 96 of the top 100 cable markets and has converted its service in a vast majority of those markets to a premium subscription channel from VOD or PPV.

A third of Here!'s on-air programming is original, and Colichman said the goal is to increase that amount by 10% annually during the next five years. The remainder of its on-air content comprises film and series acquisitions.

Colichman added that projections put Here! to be cash-flow positive for the first time in 2008. The network dedicates about two-thirds of its overall budget to programming, spending 75% of its programming budget on original content. Colichman declined comment on actual dollar amounts but said, "We're spending very competitively with much larger networks."

As for the new programming orders, the two fresh two-hour installments of the "Strachey Mystery" projects -- "Ice Blues" and "On the Other Hand Death" -- are shooting back-to-back in Vancouver and will make their debut in spring and summer 2008.

Vampire drama "Lair," which stars Peter Stickles and David Moretti, will return in March or April with 12 half-hour episodes, and the third season of the primetime soap "Paradise Falls" debuts in January with 26 half-hour episodes. In addition, Here! is producing five new half-hour episodes of anthology series "DL Chronicles" for the current season.

As previously announced, "Ryan's Life" debuts next year, while "Dante's Cove" returns for a third season in October.

The privately held Here! noted that it competes against other premium cable networks including Showtime -- which also has aired gay- and lesbian-themed shows, including "Queer as Folk" and "The L Word" -- and HBO. As for MTV Networks' gay-targeted Logo, Colichman said there's not as much direct competition since Logo is ad-supported and therefore must adhere to other programming guidelines.

"It's incredibly rare we actually have a piece of programming both companies want," he said. "We no more compete with Logo than HBO competes with CBS."

But having Logo come first in the marketplace was a huge boost to Here! because it "elevated the position of the gay community with a lot of cable operators," he said. Logo is in 30 million basic cable homes; Here! is available in 50 million homes.

So far, though, neither Here! nor Logo has had a breakout hit on the order of a "Sex and the City" or even an "L Word."

Regardless of the amount of original programming on Here! the network has one main goal in mind.

"Our job is to show lot of gays and lesbians in all walks of life, all colors, all age groups in a light that they have not yet been seen," Colichman said. "Everybody wants to see accurate images of themselves."
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