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CMT Hopes to Build on ‘Nashville’ Success in TV Upfront

Variety logo Variety 5/3/2017 Brian Steinberg
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CMT wants to use the music drama “Nashville” to get itself on the map close to Madison Avenue.

The Viacom-owned cable network has seen year-over-year growth in the audiences advertisers covet – viewers between the ages of 18 and 49 – and the network’s executive vice president of development, Jayson Dinsmore, wants to court more people like them. Since CMT picked up the fifth season of “Nashville” after ABC canceled it, executives saw an incredible rush of new viewers, and fortunately, they liked what they saw,” said Dinsmore. “We are attracting fans with many other interests, empowering us to broaden the aperture while still staying true to our musical roots.”

Music remains a bedrock element of the network, but its current approach shows what can happen when network executives roll out a slightly different tune. Once known as the home of the bawdy reality series “Party Down South,” CMT has in recent months made a bid to play to a more cosmopolitan crowd, adding a sitcom starring Billy Ray Cyrus and an ambitious drama, “Sun Records,” depicting the early days of Elvis Presley, Jerry Lee Lewis and other rock pioneers. CMT has even tried some documentaries. Network executives have been touting 21 consecutive weeks of ratings growth in meeting with ad buyers, and are on the hunt to bring new sponsors to its air. Coca-Cola, Sony and American Express have come to CMT for the first time, said Dinsmore, with the soda giant getting placement in the most recent “Nashville” season. “These aren’t advertisers you would typically associated with CMT historically,” he said, in an interview.

The programming push comes as parent Viacom has said it wants to focus more intently on six of its networks: MTV, Comedy Central, Nickelodeon, Nick Jr., BET and the soon-to-be-launched Paramount Network. CMT’s Dinsmore said the announcement of that strategy initially sparked some questions, but Viacom, he said, will continue to give the network the same level of support and the same investment in programming. “We are all on the same page,” he added.

This summer, CMT will roll out signature music events and specials, including the  “2017 CMT Music Awards” hosted by “Nashville’s” Charles Esten on June 7. CMT will premiere its first outdoor version of “CMT Crossroads” featuring Earth Wind & Fire  joined by country stars including Lady Antebellum.

The midseason premiere of “Nashville” is set to debut June 1, along with a digital after-show series, “NashChat.” “Still The King,” the Billy Ray Cyrus comedy, returns for a second season in July.

The network will use “Nashville” to boost two of its unscripted series. Both “Dallas Cowboys Cheerleaders: Making The Team” and “I Love Kellie Pickler,” will premiere on Thursday, August 3  following new episodes of “Nashville.”

CMT will also offer an original movie. The  broadcast premiere of “To Joey, With Love” takes place on Wednesday, June 21. The film, from Lionsgate’s Anchor Bay, tells the story of Joey and Rory Feek., who were named the 2010 Academy of Country Music Top Vocal Duo. The project takes viewers from the birth of their daughter Indiana, born with Down Syndrome, through Joey Feek’s struggle with cancer.“To Joey, With Love” was written, filmed and directed by Rory Feek and produced by Aaron Carnahan. It was executive produced by Ben Howard and edited by Daniel Grace along with Rory Feek.

CMT’s Dinsmore promises more to come.  “We do have one big development deal with a huge A-list talent that will be going later this summer,” he said. “Everyone will be surprised and excited.”

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