EXCLUSIVE: CMT (Country Music Television) is making a big push in scripted comedy with four pilot presentation orders. The cable network has picked up Working Class, starring actress/ comedian Melissa Peterman, The Hard Life and The 30 Percent and is finalizing an order for an untitled comedy from David Litt. All four are family comedies, a genre largely neglected on the broadcast networks, said CMT’s SVP comedy development Brad Johnson. “The common thread is that all are the kind of family comedies you can watch with your kids,” he said. The network hopes to pick up at least two of the 15-minute presentations to series and launch as a block as early as Q4-2010 but most likely in Q1-2011.
CMT signaled its plans to enter the scripted arena in October when it created the comedy development position and tapped Johnson, a veteran comedy executive and writer/producer, for it. Right off the bat, Johnson said he went to the talent agencies and asked if he could “raid their vaults” by taking a look at scripts that had gotten a pass by the broadcast networks. “I was immediately inundated,” receiving some 1,000 scripts and reading about 350 them, he said. The key was to find projects that were on-brand for CMT and that didn’t mean being Southern or country. “Roseanne and Everybody Loves Raymond appeal as much in Cleveland as they do in (Alabama),” Johnson said. “They are not Southern, they are universal.” To get a better sense which project can go the distance, for his top five picks, he ordered a polish and update of the original script as well as a script for a second episode. He then took the five projects to Nashville where the top brass of the Viacom-owned network is based. Four of the five were approved to produce 15-minute presentations that will each feature 3-4 scenes. Each presentation will hire its own director, casting director and editor but, to cut costs, all four will be filmed on the same set in the span of two weeks for a combined price tag that will be lower than the budget of a single network pilot.
Johnson said CMT executives had been looking to find a scripted vehicle for Reba alumna Peterman who hosts the network’s top program, reality import The Singing Bee. They found it in Working Class. Written and executive produced by Jill Cargerman (Gary Unmarried) and produced by Peterman and her manager Darris Hatch, the multi-camera project stars APA-repped Peterman as a blue collar, single mom moves into a home she can barely afford in an affluent neighborhood in order to provide the best life possible for her kids.
- The Hard Life, written and executive produced by Bill Diamond (“Murphy Brown”), is a single-camera half-hour that explores the contrast of modern parenting vs. old school parenting.
- The 30 Percent, written and executive produced by Peter Knight (“Krod Mandoon and the Flaming Sword of Fire”), is about a family that must adjust their lifestyle to accommodate a 30% pay cut.
- The untitled David Litt project, written and executive produced by David Litt (The King of Queens,) is a multi-generational multi-camera show about a man seeking the empty nest and his family who is unwilling to let him have it. Gene Stein and Nina Wass also executive produce.
With its maiden efforts in the scripted comedy area, CMT joins another basic cable network, TV Land, which recently entered the arena with its first two pilots, Hot In Cleveland and Retired at 35, both of which were picked up to series. Hard Life and 30 Percent were packed by CAA, Working Class by UTA and the David Litt project by CAA and WME.