By Gary Levin
NEW YORK - A new cable network aims to entertain millennials with messages of social change, and is employing celebrities from Joseph Gordon-Levitt to Meghan McCain and media partners from Univision to Rolling Stone to help its cause.
Pivot, due Aug. 1, will feature a mix of programming aimed at the "new greatest generation," the 85 million or so 15-to-34-year-olds, says Jim Berk, CEO of parent Participant Media, being created from the ashes of Documentary Channel and Halogen TV, two small cable networks that reach 40 million homes. In an apparent first, the channel's entire lineup also will be available via a mobile app to viewers who don't subscribe to cable, at a monthly cost paid to Internet providers that's "less than a cup of coffee," promises Pivot president Evan Shapiro.
Participant, formed in 2004 by eBay's first president, Jeffrey Skoll, is behind recent films The Help andLincoln and documentaries such as An Inconvenient Truth and Food Inc.
Among original programs are HitRecord on TV!, a variety show to be produced and hosted by Gordon-Levitt, culling material from his online community of filmmakers and performers, who are paid for their contributions.
"Television can be very pigeonholing" and full of compromises, Gordon-Levitt said at a press event Wednesday. "I need to have creative freedom to do what I want to do," and Pivot "was not just interested in me because I'm in Batman."
Other original shows include TakePart Live, a topical daily talk show; Raising McCain,a 10-episode series starring Sen. John McCain's 28-year-old daughter, who described it as "a cross between Meet the Press and Jackass"; Will, a scripted drama series about a young William Shakespeare, from Craig Pearce (Romeo and Juliet, Moulin Rouge); and Jersey Strong, a docu-series profiling two connected Newark families, one comprising gang members, the other made up of criminal lawyers.
Pivot also has acquired rights to reruns of Friday Night Lights, Farscape and Little Mosque on the Prairie, a series about Canadian Muslims. And it will share content and talent with Rolling Stone and a 10-part documentary series with Univision News that will air on both networks in separate languages.
"Everything on the network will be connected to some sort of social action," Shapiro says. An episode of Lights about bullying, for example, might spark online discussion. But the channel will not aim to preach or be partisan, and is first and foremost a general entertainment network. "We're really not interested in getting people to think a certain way," Berk says. "What we're interested in doing is getting people to think."
The channel's mission seems a more well-funded and ambitious version of the early plan for Current TV, Al Gore's former channel, which began as a home for user-generated content targeting socially conscious younger viewers. When viewers didn't respond, Current hired Keith Olbermann and became a left-leaning news network, but was sold last year to Arab broadcaster Al Jazeera.