CHICAGO (thefutoncritic.com) -- The Television Critics Association began its summer press tour this week in which the various broadcast and cable networks talk about their upcoming plans to the nation's top critics and entertainment reporters. The first week of the annual three week tour is devoted to cable as Wednesday saw the Tennis Channel, Discovery Networks (Discovery Health, Animal Planet, TLC), Comedy Central, HGTV, A&E Networks, Showtime all holding sessions for the press.
Here's a breakdown of the highlights of each network's presentation:
A&E -- The struggling cabler talked heavily about its upcoming telefilms and specials. Set for a December bow are two new "Horatio Hornblower" films: "Loyalty" and "Duty" (specific dates and times TBA). Later this month look for the William H. Macy-hosted documentary "The True Story of Seabiscuit" on Sunday, July 27 at 9:00/8:00c and a Playboy 50th anniversary special this fall. Also on tap is the new BBC co-production "MI-5." The drama series kicks off on Tuesday, July 22 at 9:00/8:00c with a two-hour premiere. Lastly, A&E announced it has renewed its crime series "City Confidential" for a fifth season.
ANIMAL PLANET -- The Discovery Networks channel announced it has picked up its animal crime-fighting series "Animal Cops" for a second season. The new batch of episodes, set in Houston, bow on Monday, August 4 (time TBA). The first season was launched in Detroit.
COMEDY CENTRAL -- The network announced at its session it has picked up "Chappelle's Show" for a second season. 12 new episodes of the series (including a one-hour special) are set to debut in the first quarter of 2004. The renewal comes as no surprise as the series averaged a solid 2 million viewers in its initial run, frequently builing on its lead-in, "South Park." The channel also hyped its upcoming series "Reno 911" (Wednesdays at 10:30/9:30c starting July 23) and "Kid Notorious" (Wednesdays at 10:30/9:30c starting October 22) as well as the upcoming season of "The Man Show" (Sundays at 10:00/9:00c starting August 17) featuring new hosts Joe Rogan and Doug Stanhope.
DISCOVERY HEALTH -- The Discovery sibling plans to launch a new makeover series entitled "Buff Brides," based on Sue Fleming's bestselling book. The series, which kicks off Monday, October 6 (time TBA), centers on brides-to-be getting in shape for their big day.
SHOWTIME -- The big news from the pay channel was that it has shelved its plans for a proposed gay-themed premium network (a co-production with MTV) saying "It didn't have enough momentum for being the right thing for Viacom to do at this point in time." Nevertheless, the Viacom-owned channel talked highly about its upcoming lesbian drama series "The 'L' Word" which is scheduled to bow in January. 13 episodes of the series have been produced.
Also in store is a new half-hour docu-style series entitled "Freshman Diaries" (previously known as "Going to College"). The ten week series, from R.J. Cutler ("American High"), tracks 10 first-year students at the University of Texas at Austin. The series bows Sunday, August 31 at 9:30/8:30c with a replay at 11:00/10:00c that same night. Showtime also outlined some dates for its original films and documentaries: the drama "D.C. 9/11" will air September 7; the Sundance darling "The Boys of Second Street Park" runs September 28; Salma Hayek's directorial debut "The Maldonado Miracle" hits on October 12; and the Jeff Goldblum/Anthony LaPaglia-led "Spinning Boris" should broadcast in the fourth quarter of 2003.
The cabler did not reveal start dates for the new seasons of "Jeremiah" and "The Chris Isaak Show," both of which are expected in the fourth quarter of 2003. Also missing-in-action: air dates for the remaining installments of the sci-fi drama "Odyssey 5."
TLC -- The "Trading Spaces" network unveiled a host of new projects. Three new series are planned for its daytime schedule (all premiering Monday, September 15). "Perfect Proposal" (1:00 p.m. eastern) helps would-be grooms, and sometimes brides, pop the question in creative fashion. Newcomer Nikki Boyer hosts the half-hour series, which has a 60 episode order, with Julie Rose McCully ("A Wedding Story") executive producing. "Proposal" will replace "A Personal Story" which will end its run after four years on the air. Following "Proposal" is "Second Chance," a new series about people who try to reconnect with long-lost loves. Lastly, "Clean Sweep," in which couples clear out their overstuffed closets and try to reorganize their belongings, rounds out the new trio at 4:00 p.m. eastern.
Meanwhile three new series are also set for primetime. On Saturday, September 20 (time TBA), TLC will unveil "Date Patrol," a 13-episode reality series from Fremantle Media ("American Idol") that takes a team of relationship coaches and turns a love-challenged individual into a lean, mean dating machine. Then on December 20, a team of professionals will help viewers "In a Fix," a new makeover show for when home-improvement projects go sour. Finally, in the first quarter of 2004, viewers can look for "Overhaulin'," a new series in which sad-sack automobiles get beautified.
Session information on the Tennis Channel and HGTV was not available.
Upcoming TCA schedule: Thursday (July 10) - Turner, ESPN, HDTV panel, Lifetime, HBO.