On Eve Of NBC Merger, Tr!o Expands Into News, Awards Shows

Months before it becomes part of NBC in the Universal merger, pop-culture channel Tr!o plans to add its programming lineup, including a foray into news documentaries as well as its own quirky look at awards shows and the epic old TV miniseries.

Tr!o, which has generated buzz for its "Brilliant, But Canceled" series that revives critical favorites that never gained traction on the networks, has gone a different way than many digital cable networks. The channel, which is seen in about 20 million homes nationwide, is infused with a mixture of seriousness and fun that Tr!o president Lauren Zalaznick calls "the essence of Tr!o." Zalaznick and other executives unveiled programming for the rest of the fourth quarter and into the new year at a briefing for reporters held Wednesday afternoon at Tr!o's executive offices in New York.

Tr!o will still have its primetime lineup, which includes a weekday strip of "Brilliant, But Canceled" at 8 p.m., documentaries at 9 and classic Dave Letterman shows from his days at NBC at 10.

The new programs cover some pretty heavy topics, including a one-hour documentary called "Journalists: Killed in the Line of Duty," about reporters who died recently in the war zones in Afghanistan, Iraq and elsewhere, and "The Road to Kabul," a half-hour video diary shot around Thanksgiving 2001 following a news crew that tries to run the gauntlet between northern Afghanistan to the war zone in the Afghan capital. And then there's the lighter fare, which includes "The Awards Show Awards Show," which goes behind the scenes at awards shows from the Oscars to the some of the lesser-known 564 awards shows and hands out its own honors like "Most Annoying Acceptance Speech" and "Most Desperate Cry for Help on the Red Carpet." The news documentaries air in November with the "Awards Show Awards Show" broadcast in December.

Another documentary, "Epic TV: The Top Ten Miniseries of All Time," looks back at a programming form that debuted in the 1970s and reached its zenith in the '80s on the networks before mostly disappearing from broadcast TV. The documentary, narrated by miniseries doyenne Jane Seymour, will count down the 10 best as picked by a panel of TV executives, producers and actors. (Hint: "Roots" tops the list.) Tr!o's Thanksgiving weekend will be a marathon of three on the top 10, including "Shogun" (#2), "Brideshead Revisited" (#5) and "Holocaust" (#7).

Zalaznick said one of her goals is to create a year-end special giving Tri! o's take on 2003. For the show, called "White Noise: The Pop Culture Roundup Year-End Special," she enlisted Daily Show producers Dan Taberski and Jo Honig to put their spin on what Zalaznick calls "over-exposed celebrities, reality TV shows, scandals, movie box office bonanzas and other moments that made America take notice."

Tr!o isn't stopping in December, either. It announced "Parking Lot," a six- part series that documents the culture of the fans of 50 Cent, Phish, Dollymania, the Kentucky Derby, a Civil War re-enactment in Selma, Ala., a Fleetwood Mac concert in Worcester, Mass., and conventions of tattoo artists and cat enthusiasts. It's based in part on the 1986 short film called "Heavy Metal Parking Lot," which chronicled the lives of teen-agers waiting in the parking lot for a Judas Priest concert to begin in Maryland.

It's part of Zalaznick's desire to appeal to more than just people on both coasts with the network.

"There is a big wide country out there and they need to see each other on television, and this is a small way of doing that," she said.

Sometime in the second quarter, Tr!o and Universal's other cable networks (USA and Sci Fi) will become part of NBC. While details of the cable networks' place in the combined company hasn't been decided yet - NBC President Bob Wright said recently that more work needs to be done before figuring out the cable networks' structure - Zalaznick said that NBC hasn't had input in Tr!o's direction yet. She said the cable network was continuing to implement its strategy and told reporters that she was confident that it would remain the way it is in the new company.

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