A&E Replays Originals on Thursdays

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A&E Network is making Thursday night the home of encore editions of its top original films and miniseries.

Beginning on Jan. 3, A&E — under the heading of "A&E Network Studios" — started showcasing such high-profile fare as Jane Austen's Emma, The Great Gatsby
and The Lost Battalion
from 9 p.m. to 11 p.m.

A&E Network Studios came out of the gate with part one of the miniseries Victoria & Albert; the second half follows on Jan. 10. It will later feature encore plays of such upcoming A&E projects as The Magnificent Ambersons, which bows on Jan. 13; The Lathe of Heaven; and the four-hour miniseries Shackleton, which chronicles British explorer Ernest Shackelton's 1914 expedition to Antarctica and is slated to premiere in the second quarter of 2002.

The strategy is a long time coming for A&E. "These are all co-productions and have relatively low license fees. We have ownership of their rights in the U.S. and Canada," said senior vice president of programming Allen Sabinson. "We now have a sufficient catalog to keep this franchise on an ongoing basis."

A&E had about 40 projects to choose from, said Sabinson. That total has since been winnowed down to about 30, relative to their quality and ratings potential.

"We think they will hold up, and we have not run them to death. They haven't run more than three times in primetime," said Sabinson, who explained that A&E's policy has been to air the projects twice in primetime during their "initial burst," then return a year later with another primetime exposure.

The network occasionally gives the films "a weekend throw," he added.

The schedule includes the top performers in the network's ratings history: Pride and Prejudice
(which averaged a 5.9 gross audience rating for its premiere); The Crossing
(5.6); Murder In a Small Town
(4.7); The Great Gatsby
(4.1) and Longitude
(3.8).

Sabinson is confident the originals will perform well in this window, as the only film package of its kind. Still, he knows Thursday nights pose stiff competition, with entrenched broadcast series.

"Friends, ER
and now, CSI
[Crime Scene Investigation
] are institutions. Because it's Thursday night, our expectations are not unreasonable," he said.

Looking ahead to May, Sabinson said A&E Network Studios may fare better because its broadcast will be "heavily into rerun cycle and dramatic serials have not performed that well."

In the end, though, Sabinson is counting on A&E leaving its imprimatur on the night.

"We're different," he said. "A&E offers high-quality fare and set its sights high. Our audience is not intimidated by period pieces and British accents.

"We do the classics, biographies and history. Clearly, it's a great viewing alternative; it's our legacy."

On the series front, A&E ran a 100 Centre Street
marathon on Jan. 5 as a prelude to premiering the final eight episodes of the court drama's second, beginning on Jan. 8. The stretch will be critical in determining whether the series returns for a third season.

While 100 Centre Street
's first season — which began in January 2001 — posted a 1.8 average audience rating over its 13 premiere installments, this season's first 10 episodes were off 20 percent, according to Sabinson. He cited Sept. 11 and competition from ABC's Monday Night Football
and CBS's Monday-night comedy block as reasons for the ratings shortfall. The series has since shifted to Tuesday nights at 10 p.m.

"The show has received great reviews and has a loyal audience, but its future will ultimately be determined by the performance of these eight upcoming episodes," Sabinson said.

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