A & E Enters Burgeoning Drama Field


New York-Joining a number of its cable comrades, A & E Network has ordered its first hour-long dramatic series-a courtroom show created by filmmaker Sidney Lumet-officials said last week.

The new weekly series, 100 Centre Street, will join A & E's schedule-along with a primetime show featuring Joan Lunden-during the 2000-2001 season.

A & E's sister service, The History Channel, also unwrapped its new-season original programs, which include the four-hour miniseries Founding Fathers, as well as a half-hour daily game show, History IQ, to be hosted by Marc Summers.

A & E will soon become one of the increasing number of cable networks creating original dramatic series-a competitive programming genre that the broadcast networks have long dominated with such fare as ER and The West Wing.

But now cable is horning in. For example, Fox Family Channel last week introduced its second hour-long drama, The Fearing Mind, from Jim Henson Television. Fox Family has ordered 13 episodes of this primetime scripted series, which will debut this fall.

Targeted at adults, the show explores the creative mind of Bill Fearing, a famous writer of suspense thrillers who lives in a traditional New England town.

In addition to Fox Family, Turner Network Television has a development slate of original hour-long dramas. The first, Bull, debuts this summer. And FX has ordered two pilots for scripted dramatic series, as well.

A & E senior vice president of programming Allen Sabinson said his network is looking to evolve and build upon its past success with original dramatic movies. "We have shown that we can attract a rating and we can attract favorable attention," he added.

Lumet will direct and serve as executive producer for 100 Centre Street, and will also write several episodes. A & E has ordered 13 episodes of the show, which is expected to debut in the first quarter of next year.

The series-which will be done in high-definition video-will tell the stories of the prosecutors, defense attorneys and accused in night court in New York City. Lumet has made a career in films that often have courtroom- or law-enforcement-related themes, such as 12 Angry Men, Serpico and Dog Day Afternoon.

The keys to success for 100 Centre Street will be "execution, execution, execution," according to Sabinson, as well as the fact that "the vision here is Sidney Lumet's."

A & E has also purchased nine episodes of Behind Closed Doors with Joan Lunden, which first aired on ABC, as well as commissioning 10 new ones. The cable network will start airing the new and old episodes this fall.

"Joan Lunden is a talented journalist and a wonderful television personality," Sabinson said. "And the great strength of A & E is its reality and documentary series. This is an extension of that. It's an absolutely natural fit for us."

A & E also has another hour-long weekly series set for primetime this fall, First Prize, which will look at competitions across America from barbecue in Memphis, Tenn., to body-surfing in Santa Cruz, Calif.

The network will rejigger its primetime lineup in June, moving Investigative Reports from 9 p.m. to 10 p.m. and creating a checkerboard at 9 p.m. Behind Closed Doors and First Prize are destined to go into that 9 p.m. time slot.

In terms of specials and made-for-TV movies for the new season, A & E will air Peter Pan, a telecast of the Tony Award-winning play starring Cathy Rigby, and two more Horatio Hornblower movies, which will once again star Ioan Gruffudd.

A & E spent $165.4 million on programming last year, and it is projected to spend $180.3 million this year, according to Paul Kagan Associates Inc. History anted up $50.2 million for programming last year, and it is seen spending $55.2 million this year, according to Kagan.

At History, the miniseries Founding Fathers will try to put a human face on the men who fought for independence during the American Revolution. It is slated to premiere in November.

History's two new series are a quiz show, History IQ, to air at 7:30 p.m. weeknights, and This Week in History. That program, hosted by Josh Binswanger and Giselle Fernandez, will look back at what happened during a particular week-say, April 24 through 30-in different years. It will air Fridays at 9 p.m., kicking off Aug. 11.

History senior vice president of programming Charlie Maday said History IQ is a perfectly branded show for the network- "the one place a quiz show belongs" in this period when game shows are popping up everywhere and trying to duplicate Who Wants to Be a Millionaire's success.

Said Maday of History IQ, "The questions will be testing for the audience."

He added that the game show will have an interactive element, with viewers able to play along on their computers. History IQ will premiere in the fourth quarter.

Last week, A & E's spinoff digital service, The Biography Channel, unveiled its plans to add more original programming to its lineup this fall.

The network will air the premiere of Howard Carter: Treasure and Triumph, which tells the story of the renowned archeologist. That premiere will cap a 24-hour marathon of In Search of Pharaoh-profiles of figures such as Ramses and Cleopatra, as well as side trips to Egyptian crypts and pyramids.

Biography is also planning a weeklong primetime marathon of biographies on U.S. presidents and their first ladies.