EXCLUSIVE: After entering the scripted series arena last year with its first crop of comedy pilots, which yielded its first scripted series, Working Class, CMT is expanding into another area of original programming. The country music-themed cable network has established CMT Original Movies, a new division that will produce TV movies for the network with a focus on romantic comedies and music-based films. The first two movies in the franchise, which will be released in late summer, are To the Mat (working title), starring Ricky Schroder and actress-singer Laura Bell Bundy; and Reel Love, starring actress-country star LeAnn Rimes. Both films will be produced by Entertainment One Television under head of MOWs Ira Pincus. “We’ve had great ratings success programming with acquired theatrical romantic comedies, so it is only natural for us to create original stories that are tailor-made for the CMT audience,” said CMT’s SVP programming Mary Beth Cunin.
Written by C. Jay Cox (Sweet Home Alabama) and directed by Rob Iscove (She’s All That), To the Mat tells the story of a laid-back ex-wrestler (Schroder) who’s trying to keep his family’s down-and-out southern wrestling school above water. When his mother hires an uptight Wall Street consultant from New York (Bell Bundy) to help get the books in order, the two opposites must find a way to get along and save the family business. The movie is currently in production in British Columbia for a premiere in August.
Reel Love stars Rimes as a successful big-city girl who returns to her small-town roots after a family emergency. She then embarks on a soulful, comedic journey to reconnect with family and friends and find meaningful romance along the way. Written by Sharon Weil Aaron and directed by Brian K. Roberts (Everyone Loves Raymond), the movie is set to begin production in late April in Ontario and will premiere in September.
CMT Original Movies succeeds CMT Films, which produced and distributed films from 2005-2010, including Broken Bridges, starring Toby Keith and Kelly Preston; Beer For My Horses, starring Keith and Rodney Carrington; Dale, about the life of NASCAR star Dale Earnhardt; and Petty Blue, a documentary about NASCAR’s royal racing family. While the CMT Films projects were targeted primarily for theatrical/DVD release, with an airing on CMT coming second, CMT Original Movies is dedicated to producing made-for-TV movies for CMT. To the Mat is exec produced by John Morayniss, Noreen Halpern, Margaret O’Brien and Pincus for Entertainment One and Lisa Silfen, Robin Palmer, Lewis Bogach and Mary Beth Cunin for CMT.