A&E Ups Original-Programming Ante


New York -- After making a $500 million investment in programming and content last year, A&E Television Networks is upping the ante this time around.

“Since we learned that smart investments pay off, in 2007, AETN will invest over $600 million in new content, new media, new technology and new infrastructure … broadband, HD, VOD [video-on-demand] and mobile -- you name the platform -- we will continue to bring our smart, devoted viewers quality content on the platform of their choice,” CEO Abbe Raven told the Madison Avenue community at the programmer’s upfront presentation here Tuesday morning.

On the A&E Network side, that will translate into a bevy of projects, including additions to its Real-Life franchise, a miniseries and extensive scripted-series development that is expected to yield a drama skein next year.

Production is set to begin in July in Vancouver, British Colombia, onThe Andromeda Strain, based on the Michael Crichton best-seller, which will team up Ridley Scott (Gladiator) and Tony Scott (Man on Fire). Slated to be four hours, executive vice president and general manager Bob DeBitetto said after the presentation that the executive-production team is currently working on a director’s script that could add two more hours. The miniseries is scheduled to premiere sometime early next year.

A&E’s presentation also touted The Two Coreys, pairing child stars and friends Corey Feldman and Corey Haim under one roof; and Confessions of a Matchmaker, a look at Patti Novak, who works to bring couples together on the dating circuit in Buffalo, N.Y. These shows will bow this summer.

Other nonfiction fare headed to A&E’s air at some point includes: Crime 360, where real investigations meet technology as viewers go inside detective work as theories, forensics and evidence are brought to life through computer-generating-imaging visualizations and state-of-the-art 3-D photography; The Rookies, which looks at a new class of cops in Jefferson Parish, La., following the ravages of Hurricane Katrina; and Paranormal State, which follows Penn State college students enrolled in one of the first university-sanctioned paranormal groups in the United States. The latter will be supplemented by a companion broadband site, ParanormalState.com.

Speaking of the Web, AETN is prepping an as-yet-unnamed broadband version of the Crime & Investigation digital network. Moreover, DeBitetto talked up Dog 2.0, a Web animated spinoff of A&E hit series Dog the Bounty Hunter; and Nick’s World, a digital sibling of Gene Simmons Family Jewels. With the latter, users will follow Nick Simmons-Tweed -- son of the KISS bassist and mother Shannon Tweed, the erotic actress and model -- during his freshman year in college.

As for scripted, A&E is moving toward its first original series since 100 Centre Street with a development pipeline now encompassing 14 projects.

Tana Nugent Jamieson, senior VP of drama programming at A&E, told Multichannel News before the presentation that she hopes to bring three or four of the entries to pilot, with an eye toward bringing one to series in 2008.

The network’s latest crop: The Cleaner, in which William “The Cleaner” Banks and his unconventional team help people to eradicate their addictions to sex, drugs, alcohol and gambling; The Beast, following an FBI veteran training a new partner while being pursued by a secret team; Homestead, a look at a Los Angeles Police Department program giving cops an incentive to live in the tough neighborhoods they police; Takedown, showing U.S. marshals hunting fugitives after a mass escape in Los Angeles; and Under, putting the spotlight on a young thug who turns his life around after joining the witness-protection program following his turning state's evidence against his former mob bosses.

After the presentation, DeBitetto said about two-thirds of A&E’s scripted-development slate falls into the police/detective/justice realm, with the intent to build off ratings lynchpins CSI: Miami and The Sopranos. Together, those shows have added 19 million new viewers to A&E since last fall, according to network officials.

Bringing a drama to series would complete the plan DeBitetto and Raven mapped out several years ago that resulted in A&E attracting younger viewers and lowering the network’s median age via the Real-Life franchise and then expanding its base again via the off-network fare.

The strategy has been well-executed to date, as A&E has bettered its promise of jumping into cable’s top 10: During the first quarter, the service ranked fourth in ad-supported cable among adults 25-54 and fifth among adults 18-49, according to Nielsen Media Research data.