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Little more than a year after taking charge of TruTV, Chris Linn looks toward the end of 2014 as the culmination of his refresh for the Turner-owned network. Paramount to that plan is a tweaked logo and a green light for four new original unscripted series, all of which the president and head of programming announced Thursday.
Those series — the musical Branson Famous, bar competition The Shake Up, tutorial half-hour Hack My Life and the sporting docuseries Kart Life — are each departures from TruTV offerings of the past and part of the MTV alum’s personal mandate to diversify the network’s catalog.
“One of the biggest things that I wanted to address when I came to the channel was the derivative nature of the content,” Linn tells The Hollywood Reporter. “Impractical Jokers was the one outlier on the network. That was sort of the canary in the coal mine. We want to not just be in the docuseries business. Let’s lead into the comedic instead of the conflict.”
There hasn’t been one storage-, towing- or pawn-themed effort among Linn’s 12 series orders at TruTV. The focus on humor, which April’s initial rebranding news called out as targeting “funseekers,” follows Impractical Jokers’ resonance with the network’s audience and the more recent success of magician/prank series The Carbonaro Effect.
The lighter approach is one reason why the logo, tweaked only slightly by elevating the punctuation mark and italicizing the “TV,” is intended to shed any of the lingering severity associated with the network’s Court TV roots. “People who are not familiar think it should be a documentary channel,” says Linn, who admits that building brand awareness in those 93 million homes is a big challenge. “This is about celebrating all of the great things happening in TV right now.”
TruTV’s departure has not been without its obstacles. The lack of diversity in unscripted right now, notes Linn, has a lot to do with the big money in easily replicated programs.
“One of the greatest frustrations is that what’s happening right now is production companies are selling big orders for formats,” adds Linn. “More and more, they come in to pitch and they’re like, ‘Are you interested in formats?’ Of course we are, but we’re also interested in characters.”
As for his new crop, Branson Famous (working title) might be the biggest swing. Described as the first-ever “reality musical,” the show follows Missouri’s Mabe family and their long-running variety show in the titular burgh. Road to Awe is producing the 12-episode order, which has begun production and features its cast breaking into song even during confessionals.
Kart-racing Kart Life (Bodega Pictures), the Mo Mandel-hosted bar battle The Shake Up (ITV Studios and Gaspin Media) and life hack tutorial Hack My Life (Sharp Entertainment), like other recent orders, are all expected to air by year’s end or shortly thereafter, when Linn sees the refresh hitting its completion — or at least entering its next phase.
“In the fourth quarter, you’ll see pretty much a complete turnover on air,” Linn surmises. “I think it speaks to diversity, a change in direction. It’s a little more clever and less derivative. You can’t engineer a hit, the audience chooses.”
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