Sundance slate headed by 'Spectacle,' seven series

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Sundance Channel has announced a new talk show hosted by Elvis Costello and executive produced by Elton John as well as seven shows in development for 2009. But it declined to confirm reports that the channel is up for sale.

"NBC Universal and CBS are the fourth Mommy and Daddy we've had since this network was founded 12 years ago," Sundance president and CEO Larry Aidem said Wednesday at a pre-upfront breakfast with reporters. "It's the fifth if you count the split of Viacom 21/2 years ago. We are used to changes in ownership. It's happened before, and rumors of changes in ownership have happened before. But one constant has been Robert Redford. He's deeply involved in the creative part of our business. We're not missing a beat. If something happens, it happens."

Sundance said it would begin airing 13 one-hour episodes of "Spectacle: Elvis Costello With …" later this year. Produced in conjunction with John's Rocket Pictures, the series will air on CTV in Canada and Channel 4 in the U.K. FremantleMedia will handle sales of the show to the rest of the world.

The series will feature everything from intimate one-on-ones with legendary performers and notable newcomers to thematic panel discussions, with a variety of performance elements, Sundance said.

Redford, who founded the channel and owns a 10% stake, was not at Wednesday's presentation but is scheduled to appear at small upfront meetings for advertisers in Los Angeles, Chicago and New York on April 29, April 30 and May 1.

Sundance Channel executive vp and GM programming and creative affairs Laura Michalchyshyn also announced the premiere of the original series "Architecture School" in September. The six-part series follows students enrolled in Tulane University's School of Architecture as they design and build a sustainable home for a low-income family in New Orleans.

The shows in development, which still only have working titles, include:

"Eco Trip: The Real Cost of Living," a behind-the-scenes series hosted by Adventure Ecology founder David de Rothschild that examines the environmental impact of such everyday items as cotton T-shirts and rolls of toilet paper.

"World's Greatest Treasure Hunt" features the head buyer for popular retail chain Anthropologie traveling the world in search of unique items to sell.

"Johnny Weir: Black Swan Rising" is a documentary series about the controversial figure-skating Olympian.

"Extreme to Mainstream" explores how avant-garde artists enter mainstream culture.

"The Lazy Environmentalist" features environmental entrepreneur, author and radio personality Josh Dorfman.

Sundance also said that in October it will premiere "The War Room +15," a political documentary directed by Chris Hegedus and D.A. Pennebaker, who helmed the Academy Award-nominated "The War Room" about Bill Clinton's 1992 presidential campaign. The docu will take an in-depth look at how the political process and media culture have changed since the 1992 election.

The channel said it will launch an original Web series "The Good Fight" exploring issues of environmental justice on April 22. "Green Porno," an eight-part short film series from Isabella Rossellini about the sex life of insects, will premiere on SundanceChannel.com and Helio's mobile service May 5, on VOD in June and on Sundance Channel in July.

Sundance also announced the renewal of the series "Iconoclasts" and "Live From Abbey Road."

Additionally, the net announced the hiring of three directors of integrated sales: Corry Hart from Scripps' Fine Living, Joshua Northridge from MTVN's CMT and Dana Perillo from Discovery Communications.

Executives said that in the next two to three weeks Sundance will announce that it will be repackaged on a more broadly distributed digital tier.
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