Rx for A&E

Dec 16, 2002  •  Post A Comment

The doctor is in.
Abbe Raven, after just one month on the job as executive VP and general manager of A&E, is making her first moves to resuscitate the struggling arts and entertainment network, changing the schedule, bringing over a new development VP from The History Channel and putting more money into development.
The plan for the year ahead is to stabilize the ratings and bring in new dramas, documentaries and specials, all aimed at making A&E the “gold standard of entertainment,” Ms. Raven told Electronic Media in her first interview since assuming her new post. As for any threat posed by Bravo, recently acquired by NBC: “Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery,” Ms. Raven said.
“You will see some changes to our schedule” in January, she said. “What I am doing, just right off the bat in January, is finding a home for things that I believe are successful for the network. So … we are building new Friday, Saturday, Sunday, Monday evenings.”
Those moves include:
Introducing three new Friday night documentary series, beginning Jan. 17 with “Expedition Egypt” and “Hauntings,” followed by “Other World,” a mysterious-phenomena series, premiering on Jan. 31.
Creating a high-profile Saturday night off-network drama block, premiering Jan. 4 with “Crossing Jordan” and “Third Watch,” both from NBC, followed by “Cold Case Files,” A&E’s forensic series, which also will continue to anchor Tuesday and Wedneday nights.
Anchoring Sunday will be two-hour “Biography Close-Up” specials teamed with “The Detectives,” A&E’s reality series set in the world of the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department.
On Mondays, A&E will run “A&E Mystery Movies,” starting Jan. 20 with the first of five new “Midsummer Murders,” a British import. The series, starring John Nettles, is based on the Inspector Barnaby novels by Caroline Graham.
Also in development at A&E are entertainment-oriented specials, including “American Comedy,” a retrospective look at the great comedians of yesteryear.
As always, the network’s Emmy-winning “Biography” will continue to be a mainstay, with profiles set of John Travolta, Nicolas Cage, Samuel Jackson, Kelly Preston, Ray Liotta, Tom Selleck, Bill O’Reilly and Elizabeth Taylor.
One of Ms. Raven’s first personnel moves was to bring over Nancy Dubuc from The History Channel, where she was director of historical programming. Ms. Dubuc becomes VP, documentary development, at A&E and has already greenlighted five pilots, Ms. Raven said.
There will be a new focus on development at A&E, with a “signficant” new dollar commitment, Ms. Raven said, though she declined to quantify that commitment in any way. There also will be a new focus on documentaries and documentary series, she said.
Ms. Raven countered speculation that the network will abandon its traditional upscale audience, saying she is targeting an “upscale, better-educated dual audience that focuses on the 25-to-54 demographic.”
Also in the A&E pipeline are high-profile movie and miniseries projects, including the telefilms “Benedict Arnold” and “The Mayor of Casterbridge”; the miniseries “Napoleon”; and two new two-hour “Horatio Hornblower” films.