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Apple's original TV production to begin small: 'We are just starting out'

Apple Inc. isn’t ready to take on the titans of TV — at least not yet.

The company is wading slowly into the business of producing original television shows, a cautious approach that seems to belie the ethos of the tech giant famous for its game-changing innovations from the smartphone to the tablet computer.

Apple is planning to start with just two shows exclusive to the Apple Music service. “Carpool Karaoke” — a spinoff of a segment on CBS’ “Late, Late Show” that has become a viral sensation — will debut in April. Apple later will add “Planet of the Apps,” a contest-reality show, in which would-be entrepreneurs pitch their concepts for new mobile apps with the hope of winning funding.

Many in the TV industry were expecting the Cupertino, Calif., company to use its clout to immediately challenge the heavyweights of premium TV, including Netflix, Amazon.com, HBO and Showtime.

But Apple plans to begin with small bites.

“Look, we are just starting out,” Eddy Cue, Apple’s senior vice president of Internet software and services, said Monday night at the Code Media conference in Dana Point, trying to downplay expectations.

“These shows bring something to customers that they haven’t seen before,” Cue said. “We are trying to do things that are unique and cultural.”

Apple has flirted with the notion of playing a starring role in television several times, only to retreat in the face of roadblocks or opt for smaller and more surgical moves. The tech company plans to use the original productions as a way to attract and retain users of its Apple Music service.

The TV shows will help differentiate the service from Spotify, Google Music Play and other subscription services. “We think video can be a very important part of Apple Music,” Cue said.

Apple, he said, is hoping to field shows that are relevant to pop culture. The two new shows that will debut this spring are loaded with celebrities: Will.i.am, Gwyneth Paltrow and Jessica Alba will serve as the mentor judges on “Planet of the Apps.”

“Carpool Karaoke” will bring together unlikely celebrities to spend time together and sing karaoke. CBS’ “Late, Late Show” host James Corden, who turned the sketch into a popular feature on his TV show and YouTube, will appear in only a handful of the episodes for the Apple series.

Still, at the Orange County conference sponsored by Vox Media, some members of the audience seemed skeptical about Apple’s strategy.

Cue was asked why Apple didn’t just go out and buy an entertainment company or blow up the TV industry by offering existing TV channels a la carte rather than in a big bundle.

But Cue didn’t take the bait, and instead promoted the two shows.

“This is new for us. We’ve never done anything like it before,” Cue said, at one point adding, “We know what we don’t know.”

He said the two shows probably would be the first of many original shows for Apple. “But how fast, and how much, remains to be seen,” he said.

“Planet of the Apps” comes from Propagate Content, the TV studio managed by former NBC Entertainment Chairman Ben Silverman and his longtime business partner, Howard Owens.

About two years ago, the two executives, along with Will.i.am, were pitching the show to the big broadcast networks. The unscripted show takes a Silicon Valley twist on ABC’s “Shark Tank,” in which would-be inventors pitch their projects to potential investors.

Before making a deal with one of the networks, Will.i.am brought the concept to the Apple executives, who also were intrigued and eventually bought the show. It is expected to be different from a TV series because it will have interactive components. For example, viewers can pause the program to learn more about the contestants or various elements of the app development process.

Silverman said he was happy with the outcome.

“A show about apps doesn’t work unless you are partnering with Apple,” Silverman said. “And it will also be an app, which is very meta and cool.”

meg.james@latimes.com

@MegJamesLAT

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UPDATES:

5:50 p.m.: This article was updated with additional details on Apple’s TV production plans.

This article was originally published at 3 a.m.

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