Upfront News and Views: CMT, the New Home of Quality Scripted Series?

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Rapid, brief and on point -- under 45 minutes by best estimates. While the network will continue to be country-music focused, the coming year will emphasize new directions, including semi-scripted miniseries and late-night talk/variety. The channel "has the opportunity to be bigger and bolder," said Cyma Zarghami, Viacom Kids & Family Group chief executive, while CMT executive vice president of development Jayson Dinsmore promised "a rich pipeline of new series" coming up. That pipeline, added CMT president Brian Philips, includes a return to scripted work for the first time in more than a half-decade. This will not be a mere wade into these waters, Philips and Dinsmore pledged. The network wants to generate material with the quality of “Mad Men,” “Breaking Bad” and “Falling Skies.” That’s called setting the bar wicked high.

Note: For CMT, their upfront event last Thursday was the first as one of two Viacom-owned networks managed under the programmer's expanded Kids & Family Group. TV Land is the other.

Venue: The auditorium of New York Times Center on W. 41st St. near Port Authority Bus Terminal, CMT's upfront space the last three years. Few frills on stage, in the form of trees on either side, supported by grey/black backdrops. One new frill near the entrance: A blue-carpet for photographers to snap pix of celebrities on hand. Grade: 3 Jacks

Presentation: Rapid, brief and on point -- under 45 minutes by best estimates. While the networkwill continue to be country-music focused, the coming year will emphasize new directions, including semi-scripted miniseries and late-night talk/variety. The channel "has the opportunity to be bigger and bolder," said Cyma Zarghami, Viacom Kids & Family Group chief executive, while CMT executive vice president of development Jayson Dinsmore promised "a rich pipeline of new series" coming up. That pipeline, added CMT president Brian Philips, includes a return to scripted work for the first time in more than a half-decade. This will not be a mere wade into these waters, Philips and Dinsmore pledged. The network wants to generate material with the quality of “Mad Men,” “Breaking Bad” and “Falling Skies.” That’s called setting the bar wicked high. Grade: 4 Jacks

News : Scripted series effort No. 1 will be “Still the King,” with Billy Ray Cyrus playing an Elvis impersonator in comedy/dramedy fashion. A fall or early 2016 launch is anticipated. The miniseries “American Speed: The True Story of NASCAR” is coming in early 2016 from Emmy-winning executive producer Stephen David (“Sons of Liberty,” “The Men Who Made America”) with Dale Earnhardt Jr. narrating. Chelsea Handler, while developing her new Netflix talk show, will executive produce “The Josh Wolf Show,” a late-night series featuring country music talent and comedy. Singer and “Dancing with the Stars” winner Kellie Picker will star in an unscripted series about her home life. Two other projects – “The Ed Bassmaster Show” from one of YouTube's newest phenoms and miniseries “Gainesville” from the producers of “Brick City” -- were not displayed at CMT's event. Had to learn all about both in a press release. Grade: 3.5 Jacks

Hosts: Philips and Dinsmore kept things moving and lively, then cleared out for Grammy-winning superstar Darius Rucker. Backed by a pair of guitar/banjo players, Rucker offered a mini-concert of recent hits, including current No. 1 "Homegrown Honey" and last year's chart-topper "Wagon Wheels." Grades: 3.5 for Philips/Dinsmore, 4.5 for Rucker.

Overall Grade: 4 Jacks A fine demonstration of packing message and the supporting news in a reasonable time. And Rucker, in front of the green space connecting the other side of the NY Times building, carried on the tradition of memorable musical CMT Upfront events that have in recent years featured The Band Perry, Sheryl Crow, Lady Antebellum and others.

Next up: USA Network

A quick reminder of our Jacks grading system:

5 Jacks = Excellent
4 Jacks = Very Good
3 Jacks = Good
2 Jacks = Fair
1 Jack = Poor
0 Jacks = Worse than that

Until the next time, stay well and stay tuned!

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