Cable Upfront Pitches Roll

The cable upfront season officially swung into action last week as Food Network and Turner Broadcasting’s TNT and TBS presented new shows to media buyers and the press. The frenzy will continue today as Bravo, which recently hit 50 million subscribers, unveils its new programming slate.

Rainbow-owned Bravo has turned its efforts to originals, adding five series by first quarter 2002. The It Factor, a 13-part series premiering in October, follows the audition trials of struggling New York actors. Other upcoming series include Stagestruck and Musicians.

Though this year’s upfront is expected to be less than cable’s $4 billion-plus windfall last year, Bravo executive vp/general manager Ed Carroll said, “the efficiencies of our upscale viewers will benefit us this year.” First-quarter prime-time ratings are pacing 15 percent ahead of last year, with a 0.4 rating (207,000 households).

Last year, two years after Bravo became an ad-supported network, the channel gathered $44 million in advertising revenue. Noting that buyers have been attracted to sponsorships, Carroll said the network doubled the number of opportunities with 12 special-event programs, such as Bill Wyman’s Blues Odyssey and the Academy Award-winning documentary on Marlene Dietrich, Marlene.

The Bravo presentation comes after parent company Rainbow Media launched its tracking stock on Friday. The stock “gives us currency to invest in our brands,” said Hank Ratner, Rainbow COO.

Despite industry-wide cost cutting, Food Network is doubling its programming budget, expecting to produce 950 hours of new shows during the upcoming season. “You can’t stop investing because the economy is bad,” said Judy Girard, Food Network’s president, who wants a more diversified schedule.

New half-hour series include Healthy Living and Unwrapped, which showcases the tricks to making junk food. And, for the first time, the network will also program miniseries, such as the six-part Cooking School Stories. The network’s new season kicks off in June with an Iron Chef Weekend, featuring Bobby Flay and Masaharu Morimoto.

Earlier in the week, TNT unveiled a branding strategy that emphasizes dramatic programming, and announced it will take on Nascar coverage. TBS Superstation is developing a series on best-seller The Worst Case Scenario Handbook.