TruTV President Explains Network’s Comedic Rebrand, Reveals Scripted Shows in the Works

Chris Linn tells TheWrap how the network is breaking free from copycat shows and plans to make viewers laugh

Last Updated: October 28, 2014 @ 7:36 AM

As of Monday, TruTV is looking and feeling different. The cable channel has officially launched its rebrand, which moves away from its docuseries roots and toward more comedic fare.

When Chris Linn joined TruTV as its new president and head of programming last May, his Turner Entertainment bosses asked for his opinion on ways to jumpstart the network.

“After a very successful rebrand from CourtTV to Tru and some real ratings success around a number of our shows, the evolution stalled,” Linn told TheWrap. “A lot of the shows that have been on the air over the last year or two are very similar to shows that have been on the air two years before that, and somewhat similar to shows on other networks.”

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“TruTV has had a bit of an awareness issue because of the derivative nature of some of its shows,” he continued. “And so the rebrand was really driven by a desire for TruTV to break out of the premium brand and to break away from its sort of derivative nature into new areas that felt relevant to audiences.”

The brand makeover would be informed by the network’s success with “Impractical Jokers,” its hidden camera practical joke series. It stars Joe Gatto, James Murray, Brian Quinn and Sal Vulcano, the four members of the comedy troupe The Tenderloins, as they pull off public pranks while being filmed by hidden cameras.

“‘Impractical Jokers’ was really the canary in the coal mine,” Linn said. “That was the first show that sort of broke out of the pack, was different, was more comedic in nature, was certainly more authentic and it had tremendous ratings. That really showed us that the audience was willing to evolve with us, and what we’ve done over the last year was really tried to learn from that and then jumpstart that evolution and go even further, so that we can continue to keep the audience’s attention in a very cluttered landscape with a lot of sameness.”

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The programming includes the return of hidden camera magic show “The Carbonaro Effect,” and four new fall shows: sketch comedy show “Friends of the People,” performance competition series “Fake Off,” game show “Hair Jacked,” and “How to Be a Grownup,” a comedic look at the challenges of reaching your 30s.

TheWrap: On the spectrum of rebrands, there are evolutions and then there are overhauls. Where does TruTV land?
Chris Linn: I would say this is a significant evolution, again, because we have that indicator from ‘Impractical Jokers.’ We’re really sort of building off of that as a core, but then really diversifying. TruTV was really very much locked into the docu-series format, and sort of workplace docu-series. So we’re certainly building out on the comedic format of “Impractical Jokers” into other comedic formats. We have sketch comedy, but then we’re also diversifying into completely new areas, competition elimination, sort of docu-series in different worlds as well as comedic format. So I would say it is a significant evolution from where we’ve been in the past.

Was there any resistance within Turner to rebranding the channel again?
When I joined a year ago, there was tremendous support within TruTV itself, just ready to take that next step, ready to work on new concepts, ready to explore new worlds. So, of course, there’s always some trepidation when you’re about to make a big shift. You hope everything is going to work. Of course, not everything works. You hope the majority of it will. So, we’re very excited as we approach the launch. We’ve done a tremendous amount of work behind it, but there’s been no push back. I would say there is nervous anticipation and excitement for what’s to come.

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How would you describe the design and look of the on-air graphics and the web site? What were you going for?
The goal was to reflect the poppier, brighter, more comedic tone of the network. And to be clear, we are not trying to become a comedy channel, but we are embracing a more comedic tone versus sort of the heavy conflict and drama of the past. But, the visuals, the color palette, the clarity and cleanness of the design really reflect a poppier, brighter tone.

Is a scripted comedy in the foreseeable future at TruTV?
Well, we are excited about the launch of “Friends of the People” next Tuesday, which is a fully scripted sketch comedy. We do have a few scripted projects in development right now. Scripted is an area that we are interested in, but we’re taking very thoughtful steps and not jumping into the pool too quickly. We want to make sure that anything that we develop supports the current brand and fits within the new portfolio, but it is certainly something that we’re interested in and are working towards.

In a year, what would be the indicators for the rebranding’s success?
A number of shows that find an audience, and to see steady, continued growth. I think breaking new ground with either new formats or new methods of storytelling that resonate with the audience is important, but really it’s about continuing to grow our base off of more innovative, engaging content. Social sentiment certainly around our brands, and also having more advertisers come into the mix who are excited about the content that we’re making, and hopefully decide that they want to be more associated with it.