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November 7, 2013

Ovation puts a new spin on arts programming

LOS ANGELES — James Franco has discovered Ovation. So have Jon Hamm and Vogue’s Anna Wintour.

Now the cable channel is counting on a program lineup including those glittery names, along with unexpected artists, to convince viewers that arts programming can be expansive and engaging. Or, as executive Robert Weiss puts it, Ovation isn’t “my parents’ arts network.”

The aim is to broaden the definition of art beyond the traditional areas, said Weiss, who came aboard as Ovation’s chief creative officer in late 2012.

“It’s not having it be so precious,” he said. “There’s a whole generation of people between the ages of 20 and 50, when they think of art they think of a painting hanging in the museum or classical ballet.”

But the contemporary arts also comprise, for instance, of graffiti and hip-hop, Weiss said. Those are among the subjects covered in Ovation’s “The Art Of” series, which has also explored artistry in sneakers, mixology, fashion and even sushi.

“Our show on sushi was never what you’d see on the Food Network. The chefs we focused on, they view themselves as Picassos, sculpting the fish,” Weiss said.

Upcoming “The Art Of” episodes include one exploring fashion design on Nov. 20, burlesque on Dec. 12 and the holidays on Dec. 11.

There have been other channels that started as arts-centric but found different paths to follow, notably A&E and Bravo. There is substantial arts content on PBS but as part of a broader range of programming, while channels such as IFC and Sundance tend to focus on films and other narrative-driven fare.

That makes Ovation unusual and gives it cachet with those who want to color outside the standard TV lines, said Weiss. Under his push for more original programming, the channel will end 2013 with about a dozen original series and the addition of more than 200 first-run hours compared with last year’s 40 hours.

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