NEW YORK (TheWrap.com) - When the country’s first broadcast network focused on African Americans launches at noon Monday, it will do it not with new, original shows, but with “The Wiz,” Sidney Lumet’s 33-year-old “Wizard of Oz” update featuring Michael Jackson, Diana Ross and Nipsey Russell.
The choice offers a hint at the largely safe, comforting approach of the new network, which counts Martin Luther King III among its founders.
Bounce hopes to establish its identity with an early slate of films that includes old and new classics, inspirational stories, and showcases for African-American icons. It will also air specials, sports, documentaries and faith-based programs.
“‘The Wiz’ is a brand identifier because it has resonated in the community since I was a child,” said Bounce president Ryan Glover. “As a third grader I played, in my school play, Nipsey Russell as the Tin Man. Last year my son, in his fourth-grade class, played Michael Jackson as the Scarecrow.”
Original shows will come -- to borrow from “The Wiz” -- down the road. But in the meantime, Bounce hopes to use films to set a tone with audiences, which Glover said will be easier to do once it begins airing its own programs.
“The quicker we grow into originals, to grow into a real identity, the better,” Glover said.
But waiting to debut new shows could spare the network some of the growing pains experienced by Oprah Winfrey’s OWN, the last new network to debut.
Since its January 1 launch, OWN has tried to establish itself with a slate of originals and burned through millions of dollars more than initially planned in the process. At the same time, it has struggled for ratings.
Bounce hopes to set a tone largely with a slate of films with proven playability among black audiences. “The Wiz” will be followed by Sidney Poitier’s “A Raisin in the Sun,” and, Monday night, by Spike Lee’s “Do the Right Thing.”
Other upcoming programing includes a week of Richard Pryor movies and a week of inspirational films -- including “Shackles” and “Glory” -- in October.
The approach reflects Bounce’s interest in a more mature demographic than the 31-year-old BET, which has grown into a successful cable network in part by drawing a young audience in search of hip-hop videos. Like BET spin-off channel Centric and TV One, Bounce is largely ceding the under 25 audience to BET.
Glover believes there is room for another network, he has said, because black audiences are “desperately underserved.”
Bounce also has a broadcast niche: It will air on the digital signals of local television stations, rather than on cable. It is already available in half of households and 64 percent of African-American households.
Though the early emphasis is on films, the network will try to find a unique position in sports as well.
On Wednesday, it will air its first football game from the Central Intercollegiate Athletic Association, the nation’s largest African-American athletic conference, between the top-rated Bulldogs of Bowie State and rival Virginia Union.
It will also air reruns of the beloved dance show “Soul Train.”
In its initial rollout, Bounce will be seen in Chicago, Atlanta, Philadelphia, Houston, Cleveland/Akron, San Francisco, Milwaukee, Charlotte, Cincinnati, Indianapolis, Kansas City, Hartford/New Haven, Norfolk, Dayton, West Palm Beach, Birmingham, Memphis, Louisville, Richmond, and other cities.
More markets are to be announced later in the year, and Toyota is its charter advertiser.