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Upfront and Personal: TV One: 'It's the summer of Cookie'

If "Empire"changed the dynamic for prime-time dramas with multicultural casting and storylines,TV One (US) has alteredthe paradigm for cable syndication deals, obtaining the rights to the hip-hop seriesbefore it completes its second season.

The -owned network hassecured cable-exclusiverights to "Empire," the hitshow on 21st Century FoxInc.'s FOX (US),starring Terrence Howard and Taraji P. Henson as Lucious and Cookie Lyon, the estrangedcouple heading Empire Entertainment, a music company in which their three sons arealso integrally involved as artists and management. Financial terms for the dealwith 20th Television were not disclosed.

TV OnePresident Brad Siegel, in an interview after the network's April 14 presentationin New York, said the network will run all of "Empire's" sophomore seasonthrough its penultimate, 17th installment in a marathon, ahead of the second-seasonfinale on FOX in May.

Thereafter,Siegel said TV One will gain access to the first two seasons. "It will be thesummer of Cookie," he said, without disclosing the network's "Empire"seasonal scheduling strategy. "For competitive purposes, we're going to holdback as long as we can." 

Cablenetworks traditionally have had to wait to air broadcast dramas in the fall aheadof their fourth-season debuts. TV One's pact pushes up that time frame, an accelerationno doubt influenced by streaming services that have opened earlier windows for off-networkfare. For instance, Hulu LLCgarnered exclusive, subscriptionvideo-on-demand rights to "Empire," following the conclusion of its firstseason.

Siegel,who said discussions with 20th Television began during NATPE in January, called the agreement "unprecedented.It's a marketing and programming deal. It's not just repurposing. We'll get to thewhole second season, minus the finale. We will run marathons into the new seasonin September and ahead of the show's mid-season in February or March. Then, we'llrun the series in the summer. Next summer, we'll get access to season one, two andthree and keep rolling as 'Empire' moves ahead."

Askedif the deal included a joint ad sales arrangement, Siegel said TV One had not discussedsuch connectivity with FOX around "Empire," which he said is one of themost expensive shows on television with 30-second spots on the broadcaster fetching$500,000. "But we probably should, to see if there is a way to combine efforts."

Siegelbelieves "Empire" will expand TV One's audience. "There are so manyaspects to the show: the music, the family drama, the violence. It's also incredibleto look at," he said. "African-Americans love this show, and I think theyare going to want to revisit it and see what they didn't see before. And we're goingto make that easy for them."

Duringthe presentation, Siegel said TV One, as part of its recently adopted brand positionof "Represent," will look to "defy expectations" as it is committedto producing authentic content for Black culture past, present and future. He saidthe "Empire" acquisition is a big move for TV One, but it is eyeing others.

The networkalso is making a big bet in telefilms. "Two years ago when I started at TVOne, we thought it was great that we had one original movie," said D'AngelaProctor, senior vice president of programming and production, during the upfrontpresentation, before noting that the service increased its output to quarterly presentations.

She saidTV One will premiere an original movie every month this year, before ramping upin 2017, when it will run 15 telefilms between Memorial Day and Labor Day, and 11more thematic, calendar offerings, for a total of 26.

"Wethink there is a great opportunity here. No one has done this with that level ofconsistency for African-American audiences," said Siegel after the presentation."Movies have worked well for us with most of them performing well above time-periodaverages."

He addedthat by running the original movies at the same time on the same night in the summerof 2017, he hopes they will function like series in engaging audiences to returnrecurrently.

Siegelalso noted that TV One wants to join the scripted original series arena next yearand the network is currently deciding among five projects. Several in contentionare telefilms that could be deployed as backdoor pilots, including "Ringside,"which he likened to "Entourage," set in the boxing world. "We wantto come out swinging in early January."

In themeantime, TV One is continuing to bolster its portfolio of unscripted and docuseries.

"SneakerPawn" follows 17-year-old Chase Reed and his entrepreneurial family as theygrow their athletic shoe business in Harlem, while "Bail Bonding by CJ"tracks Princess and CJ Jones and their twin daughters as the family locks down thebail bond business in Winston-Salem, N.C.

The networktouted four new series in the real crime and justice genre with "Evidence ofInnocence," "Thou Shalt Not," "For My Woman" and "#Murder."

But anew dating genre entry elicited the biggest reaction from attendees. "The DatingGames" combines that format with elements of game shows, as groups of friends,family, cast members, teammates and everyday people compete against each other whilebeing voyeurs of real dates. The participants are captured by hidden cameras asthey answer thought-provoking and often intimate questions about the daters. Eachcorrect answer earns a cash prize for the collective.

Duringthe event, TV One screened an episode in which three groups of friends/contestantshad to decide how many weeks the couple at dinner had been dating (three); how manytimes they had sex (not yet); and whether or not the guy — upon receiving the wrongorder — would ask the server to bring him the right one, call for the restaurant'smanager, or do nothing. He wound up eating what was brought to the table.


TV One has acquired cable rights to "Empire"
Source: FOX