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A version of this story first appeared in the Feb. 28 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine.
HLN is undertaking a major rebranding away from wall-to-wall trial coverage and toward a programming strategy centered on the social media conversation. And executive vp and general manager Albie Hecht, installed last November by CNN Worldwide president Jeff Zucker, is about to push the boundaries on programming for a traditional cable news network with an eclectic development slate that includes game shows, docuseries (which have been successful on CNN) and apps that could also be TV segments.
Hecht, a former Viacom executive, compares his mission at HLN with his experience being a member of the team that launched MTV. “It’s about finding the white spaces,” he says. “When you build a brand, you’re fulfilling a need.”
But the landscape is much more crowded and noisy today than it was in 1981 when MTV premiered, or even 2003, when Hecht oversaw the successful transition of TNN to Spike TV, the first network targeting men. But like his boss Zucker, Hecht is prepared to throw things at the proverbial wall. And the network’s development slate reveals an eclectic mix of programs that one would not expect to find on a traditional cable news channel. But, says Hecht, he’s running after a different audience than MSNBC, Fox News Channel or even CNN.
“News that you share is very different from breaking news that other networks will cover,” he notes. “Our content is going to be different.”
Here are some of the show in the HLN pipeline:
Produced by My Damn Channel founder and CEO Rob Barnett, Videocracy will have a host and panel counting down the day’s buzziest ripped-from-social-media stories.
Developed in-house, the game show asks contestants to identify the search term with five key-word clues. In demonstrating the game, “reality star” and “sex tape” are among the key words for the answer Kim Kardashian. “It’s a really infectious show,” says Hecht, “but it’s really funny and informative too about people’s pop culture knowledge.”
From Kids Incorporated and Secret World of Alex Mack creator Tom Lynch, whom Hecht worked with during his Nickelodeon days, Vacation Hunters asks Twitter users to describe their dream vacation in 140 characters or less, and the show’s team of experts comes up with a vacation plan. The show also has obvious potential for sponsorships and branded content partnerships.
Created in-house, the app allows users to personalize and share their list of FOMOs (fear of missing out). The concept also will likely become a television segment. “If we have a celebrity on, an interview question would be, ‘What’s on your FOMO?’ ” explains Hecht. It’s another way to integrate social media into HLN’s current shows, much like the “Who’s Robin Following” segment that has popped up on Robin Meade‘s Morning Express of late.
I Can Haz NewsToons
Produced and created by Fred Seibert (The Fairly Odd Parents, The Nicktoons Film Festival), NewsToons is a half-hour anthology series of social satire cartoons. “We’ll bring together all the great web cartoonists and satirists and e-cards and doodles,” says Hecht. “We’re also hoping to recruit really provocative and smart print cartoonists and bring their pieces to life on TV.”
Produced and created by John Williams, the man behind ESPN’s Scrabble tournaments, the docuseries will reveal the stories behind bizarre, funny and esoteric online classifieds. “The ad that inspired this was: ‘Wedding dress, never used, for sale,’ ” explains Hecht. “We’ll also look at strange and hilarious roommate ads. I think the stories behind them will make a great series.”
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