DirecTV 101 gets original

Comics, Meat Loaf, Lunden in series

DirecTV has lined up three original series for its general entertainment network the 101 — including a court show with a comedic twist from Bunim-Murray Prods., a game show hosted by Meat Loaf and a Joan Lunden-hosted program that honors local heroes — as it looks to beef up programming on the nearly two-year-old channel.

The satellite provider's intention for the 101 — appropriately located on Channel 101 — is to provide viewers with programming they can't find on other channels, said Eric Shanks, executive vp at DirecTV Entertainment.

The new series, all of which will debut in the first quarter, are:

"The Supreme Court of Comedy," exec produced by Jonathan Murray, features real cases originally brought before small claims courts in California that will now be presided over by comedian Dom Irrera at the Laugh Factory in West Hollywood. The "counselors" representing the plaintiffs and defendants will be alternating comedians.

Matchups include Sinbad vs. Tom Arnold, Tom Papa vs. Victoria Jackson, Jamie Kennedy vs. Aries Spears and Jeff Richards and Tommy Davidson vs. Paul Rodriguez. Ten episodes have been ordered.

"Rock & a Hard Place," exec produced by Conor McAnally of Blaze TV and Michael Binkow, is a 10-episode game show, hosted by Meatloaf, in which two teams of recording artists test their knowledge on subjects ranging from music history to current events. Each team will play for charity.

The half-hour episodes will feature, among others, Grandmaster Flash vs. the Pussycat Dolls, .38 Special vs. Eddie Money, Pointer Sisters vs. Sheila E., Tiffany vs. Berlin and "American Idol" contestants competing against other "Idol" finalists.

Shanks said it's possible that "Rock" and "Supreme Court" will be paired in a weekly hourlong block.

"DirecTV Hometown Heroes," from Ellman Entertainment and exec producers Linda Ellman and Chris Meindel, is a weekly half-hour series that will profile DirecTV subscribers nationwide who have made a difference in other people's lives and their local communities. Each of the 10 episodes will showcase three stories.

"All around the country, there are some unbelievable stories about DirecTV customers doing amazing and good things in their community," Shanks said. "We wanted to put together a show that highlights that."

The 101 was launched in February 2006 after DirecTV execs found a way to appeal to sports fans with such initiatives as "NFL Sunday Ticket" and "NASCAR Hot Pass" and decided it was time to reach out to nonsports fans as well. The channel's initial focus was on music-centric programming but has since expanded to include a broader array of programs, including "Project MyWorld," which follows three girls as they travel the world in search of their MySpace friends and has its second-season finale Dec. 3; the soap "Passions," which moved from NBC this season; and the Championship Gaming Series, whose World Finals air Dec. 6-14. Other programming events have included the exclusive premiere of the high-definition version of Disney Channel's "High School Musical 2."

While the 101 does air commercials, Shanks said the network has "fewer commercial minutes per hour than any cable channel out there." The channel looks instead for "unique" ways to present advertising through means like product placement.

"It's less about ad sales and more about the quality of the channel and how it relates to the DirecTV customer experience," he said. "Because at the end of the day, what we really want is for the 101 subscribers to place a high enough value on the programming that they don't want to leave DirecTV because they're getting programming they can't get anywhere else."