New cable ventures aim for young viewers

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 Joseph Gordon-Levitt speaks onstage during the 'HITRECORD on TV' panel discussion at the Pivot portion of the 2014 Winter Television Critics Association tour in Pasadena, Calif.

Joseph Gordon-Levitt speaks onstage during the ‘HITRECORD on TV’ panel discussion at the Pivot portion of the 2014 Winter Television Critics Association tour in Pasadena, Calif.

Emerging cable networks aim for young viewers: In an already crowded field, three new cable-TV channels, in vastly different genres, are targeting younger audiences. Here’s a look at three recent start-ups.


Joseph Gordon-Levitt is ready to hit record on a passion project for TV. The movie star (Don Jon) and former child actor is producer and host ofHitRecord on TV (premiering Saturday, 10 p.m. ET/PT), a variety-show spinoff of his eight-year-old Web collaborative website that collects and curates short films, animation and music. It’s one of several new programs on Pivot, a cable network aimed at 18-to-34-year-olds and launched in August by Participant Media, the company behind films such as The Help and Lincoln.

“This show is a lot of wish-fulfillment for me,” says Gordon-Levitt in an interview Saturday, adding the project was “pretty much all I did in 2013.” He started the website with his brother in 2005 when, after taking a break from acting to go to college, he couldn’t find work. The title was “a turn of phrase I came up with to encourage myself to get going.” And the site “slowly blossomed into this community that started making stuff over the years.”

Each episode of the eight-part series, already renewed for a second season, has a theme (fantasy, space, trash, and in the opener, the number 1, as in the first time), and includes material from a worldwide community of 300,000 fans that Gordon-Levitt solicits, selects from online feedback and “my own personal take,” and pays for. On TV, that means 426 contributors to the first episode will share $50,000.

A short film in response to requests for “my first time” in the premiere episode (already available on YouTube) was based on “a young woman story grew up with eye condition and she was never able to see the stars,” Gordon-Levitt says. “Her dad bought her night-vision goggles from a Russian military surplus catalog, and she saw the stars at 16 for the first time. Who would have ever thought of that story? That’s the beauty of what we’re doing is those surprises come all the time.”

Pivot, now in nearly 45 million homes, is focused on “entertainment that inspires social change” among “the next greatest generation” of millennials, who make up the “largest group among the most sought-after demographic,” says Pivot chief Evan Shapiro. Yet it airs a wide variety of programming, from scripted comedy Please Like Me to reality series and nightly talk show Take Part Live, which will add Meghan McCain as co-host in March, and today begins airing repeats of Buffy, the Vampire Slayer and Veronica Mars (10 p.m. ET/PT). — Gary Levin

El Rey: Rodriguiez’s royal venture

Robert Rodriguez’s new El Rey Network is hoping a remake of his 1996 film From Dusk Till Dawn can help it break through the cable clutter and define itself for viewers.

“I thought it would be a really great first draw to the network … because it is a known property and those characters are so memorable,” says the channel’s founder and chairman, who’s directing three of Dusk‘s 10 episodes. “It felt very on-brand for us, action, crime-thriller, but with an expanded universe.”

The series premieres March 11 at 9 p.m. ET on the English-language El Rey, which launched in December and will be available in about 40 million homes by spring.

Also on tap: Reality producer Mark Burnett will bring Mexico’s Lucha Libre AAA wrestling league to America with regular coverage and “epic storytelling” on the network, he says. And Alex Kurtzman and Roberto Orci (Sleepy Hollow) are producingMatador, a drama about a soccer star who moonlights as a spy, due this summer. And producer Scott Gurney (Duck Dynasty) and Vice Media will produce reality specials on “youth subcultures” as tryouts for potential series.

Dawn, a supernatural crime saga and the network’s first original scripted series, is based on the cult classic from Rodriguez and Quentin Tarantino that follows the Gecko brothers as they head for the Mexican border, fleeing the FBI and Texas Rangers after a bank robbery that leaves several dead.

El Rey, funded by Rodriguez and Univision, is “for everybody, but in particular, there’s an eye toward capturing an English-language Hispanic audience” of young viewers, Rodriguez says.

In addition, El Rey will feature movies from various genres, such as action, kung fu and grindhouse; action sports; and repeats of popular TV series, including Starsky and HutchThe X-Files and Dark Angel.

“It’s different than most networks that were started by guys with Powerpoint and Excel spreadsheets. Robert actually makes stuff,” El Rey vice chairman Scott Sassa says. “We think we can be authentic to that notion of people who are artists that make stuff. … It’s a place where you’re going to see things you’re not seeing in other places.” — Bill Keveney

Combs lead a new Revolt

Sean Combs has adopted several monikers over the years, but Revolt, his new music channel, is a name he wants to stick with viewers.

The channel, which launched in October and is available in about 20 million homes served by Comcast and Time Warner Cable, will launch its flagship program — Revolt Live — on Jan. 27, with separate daily editions at 5 p.m. ET/2 p.m. PT and 8 p.m. ET/5 p.m. PT daily.

The network targets the “millennial” generation of 18-to-34-year-olds, and aims to replicate the original strategy of MTV, focusing on every music genre and providing a destination for music news, videos and performances as “the CNN of music,” says Revolt president Andy Schuon, an MTV veteran. But a new emphasis on social media — including an onscreen Twitter feed — allows a broader feedback loop for both musicians and their fans.

“So much of the conversation about music today is a comment below a blog posting,” Schuon says. “That’s what we’re bringing to the table is that conversation, (and) that works better on TV.”

And despite the liberal use of the Internet’s tools, Combs, speaking last July, said the channel’s “mission is to bring kids back to television. Even if I become your wallpaper in your dorm room…I’ll have something on your screen that’ll make you turn it up and listen to it.” — Levin

Courtesy of USA Today

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