EXCLUSIVE: The new WGN America is barely 8 months old, but it already has ordered two original scripted series — Salem and Manhattan — and has made a major off-network acquisition with Person Of Interest. Now the scripted newcomer is adding an ambitious event series to its programming roster. I’ve learned that WGN has teamed with the Weinstein Company for a Ten Commandments 10-part event series, which is being executive produced by Oscar-winning producer Bruce Cohen (Silver Linings Playbook, American Beauty). I hear the plan is for each episode to be helmed by a different A-list director, focusing on one commandment and its evolving significance. I hear the project is eying a March start. This would be one of Hollywood’s highest-profile takes on one of the most studied and sacred texts in Christianity and Judaism since the 1956 movie directed by Cecil B. DeMille starring Charlton Heston as Moses. With its structure, the event series is reminiscent of Krzysztof Kieslowski’s acclaimed 1989 Polish 10-part series Decalogue, where each part also focused on one commandment. The Ten Commandments, or the Decalogue, feature a set of biblical principles delivered by God to Moses that include prohibitions against idolatry, blasphemy, murder, theft, dishonesty, and adultery. On the comedy side, the commandments were famously tackled by Mel Brooks in History of The World, as well as by the 2007 movie The Ten. READ MORE »
EXCLUSIVE: Tribune’s WGN America continues to aggressively build its programming slate under the new regime. On the heels of greenlighting its first two original drama series, the cable network has nabbed the off-network rights of Person Of Interest in a deal with Warner Bros. Domestic TV Distribution. This deal, which will see POI premiere on WGNA in fall 2015, marks the first time the network has purchased the exclusive cable window to a syndicated series. “Person of Interest is a fantastic show with a top notch creative team behind it, and we are excited to be the exclusive syndicated cable home for the show as we continue to transform WGN America into a destination for quality premium content,” said Matt Cherniss, President/GM, WGN America and Tribune Studios.
WGN America Orders Drama Series About The Manhattan Project From Skydance TV, Tribune Studios & Lionsgate TV
EXCLUSIVE: WGN America is quickly ramping up its original portfolio. The cable network has greenlighted its second scripted series, 13-episode drama Manhattan, for a summer 2014 premiere. The show, from writer Sam Shaw and director Thomas Schlamme, is being produced by Skydance Television, Tribune Studios and Lionsgate Television. Its pickup comes two months after WGN ordered its first original drama series, Salem, and four months after the network signaled its plans to become a player in the space with the hire of Matt Cherniss as president. Created by Shaw (Masters of Sex) and to be directed by The West Wing alum Schlamme, Manhattan is set against the backdrop of the clandestine mission to build the world’s first atomic bomb in Los Alamos, New Mexico and follows the brilliant but flawed scientists and their families as they attempt to co-exist in a world where secrets and lies infiltrate every aspect of their lives. “Sam and Tommy’s passion for the world of Los Alamos, the Manhattan Project, and the characters who populate it came through from the moment we all sat down to discuss the project,” said Cherniss.
WGN America is signaling an expansion into unscripted programming with the hire of Tom Huffman as SVP Unscripted Programming. Based in Los Angeles, he will oversee unscripted series development for both WGN America and Tribune Studios, reporting to Matt Cherniss, President/GM of WGN America and Tribune Studios. “As Tribune continues its expansion into original programming, Tom brings a fantastic set of experience and point-of-view as both a producer and an executive, all of which will be essential as we create more unscripted programming for Tribune’s local stations and WGN America,” said Cherniss. In the network’s first major programming move, it greenlighted drama Salem straight-to-series.
Despite improving its ratings in the second half of its recent midseason run and getting good marks creatively, crime drama Body Of Proof couldn’t avoid the retool curse, getting a pass from ABC on Friday after three seasons, the latest series to get cancelled after being reworked. But the show is not as cold as the corpses on Megan Hunt’s (Dana Delany) table yet. I’ve learned that producer ABC Studios is actively shopping the drama series. In addition to the usual suspects for such a character-driven procedural with a strong lead — TNT and USA Network — I hear also in the mix is Tribune’s WGN America, which is in building mode, looking to join the ranks of cable networks offering original programming. With its average of 11 million viewers and 2.0/6 in 18-49 this season, Body Of Proof would bring a sizable audience to a cable network. (It ranked as the third-most-watched ABC drama this season, behind only Dancing With The Stars-buoyed Castle and flagship Grey’s Anatomy). The prospect of WGN America is particularly intriguing as the network only signaled its intention to get in the original scripted game in March, and acquiring an existing show is the fastest way of doing that. On the superstation, Body Of Proof would fit with the current off-network drama offerings, all crime procedurals, particularly the only contemporary hourlong series Bones.
EXCLUSIVE: A week after former top Fox Broadcasting Co. development executive Matt Cherniss was named President/General Manager of Tribune’s superstation WGN America and the newly formed Tribune Studios, another former Fox development executive is headed to Tribune. Jon Wax has been named SVP Scripted Programming at WGN America and Tribune Studios. He will start in May when his current contract at 20th Century Fox TV is up. Wax will shepherd scripted series development for both entities and reunite with Cherniss and Tribune CEO Peter Liguori, with whom he worked at Fox. Wax spent a decade at Fox, rising to VP Development, where he helped develop Prison Break, Bones, The Sarah Connor Chronicles and Lie To Me. (Liguori was Fox entertainment chairman; Cherniss was EVP Programming.) For the past four years, Wax was VP Drama Development at 20th TV, where he is currently overseeing the studio’s pilots Anatomy Of Violence for CBS, and Gang Related and The List for Fox. He has been the point person for two of 20th highest-profile pods, Howard Gordon’s Teakwood Lane and Peter Chernin’s Chernin Entertainment, and was instrumental in the development of 20th TV/Chernin’s Fox drama series Terra Nova.
UPDATED: Former Fox Broadcasting Co. and FX executive Matt Cherniss is returning to the TV business and reuniting with his former boss Peter Liguori. Cherniss is joining Tribune Co. as President/General Manager of WGN America and the newly formed Tribune Studios. At superstation WGN, Cherniss replaces Julio Marenghi, who has been named President of Broadcast Media Sales.
Tribune Studios marks Tribune’s official re-entry in the TV production business. The company was a leading producer and distributor of first-run syndication programming in the 1980s and ’90s through its division Tribune Entertainment until it was shut down in 2007. In the past couple of years, Tribune had signaled its interest in re-entering the space. It produces and distributes daytime syndicated program The Bill Cunningham Show and has interest in CBS’ Arsenio Hall late-night talk show and The Test, which will launch on Tribune’s 23 local TV stations in the fall. With Tribune Studios, the company plans to build on and expand what it is doing on Arsenio Hall and The Test by producing and co-producing programming that targets the needs of its stations and the superstation, Tribune CEO Liguori said, noting that “No longer can a media company look at their stations and network as a vehicle to deliver ratings and ad revenue, it’s a much bigger play.”