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The 2013-14 Upfront

Participant Media Starts New TV Network, Pivot

Documentary-heavy channel tries unusual distribution strategy

At an upfront presentation on Wednesday morning, Participant Media announced that it will turn its recent acquisitions Halogen and the Documentary Channel, into a mostly nonfiction network featuring programming from the likes of Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Meghan McCain, and Univision.

The network will be available on DirecTV and other cable providers not yet named, though Pivot president Evan Shapiro (late of IFC) said that "both our programming and distribution model are designed to disrupt conventional wisdom." The network is embracing a nontraditional distribution model, rolling out across over-the-top platforms as well as conventional satellite (and presumably cable) systems. If subscribers don't receive the network via cable subscriptions, they can buy it over the Web a la Netflix for a fee paid directly to Pivot (no fee structure was disclosed at the announcement). 

The network also has a partnership with print publication Rolling Stone, with the magazine's writers and editors appearing on the network and collaborating on several planned documentaries.

Some 300 hours of programming are in the works, including several featuring celebrities. The first seven-episode season of HitRecord on TV! will be produced and hosted by Joseph Gordon-Levitt, who crowdsources the variety show from his online community, HitRecord. And 10 segments of Raising McCain will feature omnipresent senatorial scion Meghan McCain.

Other shows will have a more socially active bent—Jersey Strong (also 10 episodes) will showcase a darker side of New Jersey life than the sun- (and bronzer-) bleached stars of Jersey Shore. Univision News will produce 10 hourlong documentaries for the network.

The network will also feature a nightly news series called Takepart Live. Separately, scripted drama Will (from Cineflix Studios) is a 10-part bio of the Bard himself, William Shakespeare, written by Baz Luhrmann's screenwriter of choice, Craig Pearce. Finally, Cineflix Studios and American Psycho director Mary Harron were on the network's development slate.

Pivot has plenty of money behind it; under Jeff Skoll, Participant has financed movies from An Inconvenient Truth to Lincoln and has frequently made money with educational content that most production companies would eschew as worthless. It remains to be seen whether the network can drive notoriously fickle millennial to its content, but the premise seems to be "TV for the TV-averse," and that, at least, demonstrates a keen understanding of its demographic. 

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