In an effort to improve its flailing ratings, A&E Network is turning to a themed primetime schedule that will showcase new original movies and documentaries.
Under general manger Abbe Raven and newly named senior vice president of programming Robert DeBitetto, A&E also hopes to reestablish its identity as a developer of quality programming that made it one of the top-rated services of the last decade.
Raven, who came over from sister network The History Channel last fall, has already implemented several changes. A&E now proffers themed primetime blocks that highlight a particular genre, a move she hopes will create more appointment viewing.
On Friday nights, A&E will feature original documentary series, including Expedition Egypt, an exploration of the Western World's fascination with the ancient land, and Hauntings, a focus on infamous ghost stories.
Monday viewers will find mystery movies, anchored by five original, two-hour episodes of Midsomer Murders. Saturday evenings will host A&E's acquired, off-network drama series — NBC's Crossing Jordan
— as well as the network's original forensic series,Cold Case Files.
"We need a schedule that is easy to understand for our audience so that they know what to expect and where to find it," said Raven.
After canceling Nero Wolfe and 100 Centre Street, A&E will launch MI5 this summer. Based on a British series Spooks, the skein will be co-produced by A&E and the British Broadcasting Co.
Raven also said the network will look to revitalize its aging Biography franchise through specials and a greater focus on contemporary political and pop-culture icons.
The network is also betting that original specials, like Role Reversal
— in which men and women experience life as a member of the opposite sex — and a film about screen legend Bette Davis, will help jumpstart its Nielsen performance. The network finished 2003 with a 1.0 household rating, down 17 percent from last year.
DeBitetto, the former Turner Network Television president of original programming who oversaw TNT Originals before the division's dissolution in December 2001, said A&E will continue to produce quality programming targeted to adults 25 to 54.
"The network is and will continue to be among the gold standards in terms of programming," he said. "Quality is not a brand, but as a beacon or frame of reference, it has to be one of our guiding forces."