A&E Touts Movie, Reality Lineup

Apr 18, 2005  •  Post A Comment

An original movie starring TV veteran Ted Danson will be one of the highlights of an expanded movie slate A&E will present to ad buyers at its upfront presentation this week.

A&E Television Networks CEO Abbe Raven said the network will tell ad buyers about five movies for the upcoming season, the most it’s ever had to talk about during an upfront. She said she and A&E executive VP of programming Bob DiBitetto “have been really working to ramp up development.”

In addition to the movies, A&E will tell ad buyers that three new reality series have gone into production, including “Roller Girls,” produced by Go Go Luckey Productions, producer of MTV’s “Laguna Beach.”

The reality series will join programs such as “Dog the Bounty Hunter” and “Growing Up Gotti,” which have helped boost A&E’s ratings while lowering the median age of its viewers. A&E said it had its best first-quarter ever in impressions among adults 18 to 34, up 61 percent from a year ago. It was also up 32 percent among viewers 18 to 49 and 20 percent among adults 25 to 54.

Ms. Raven said A&E’s message to ad buyers is that “if they want to be in a place that has the strongest growth story, a network that people are flocking to and talking about and continues to be a quality network … they don’t just want to be on A&E, they have to be on A&E. It is a must-buy for the new season.”

Mr. Danson will star in a movie tentatively titled “Young Knights,” based on the story of an English teacher in the South Bronx who changed his students’ lives by introducing them to the game of chess. The film is being produced by Fox Television Studios. The executive producer is Diane Nabatoff and the co-producer is Perri Peltz. Delia Fine is the executive producer for A&E and David Madden and Lisa Demberg supervise for FTvS.

A&E last season had success casting another TV veteran, Tom Selleck, in its movie “Ike: Countdown to D-Day.” “We think we will have the same success with Mr. Danson,” Ms. Raven said.

With five movies already on the slate, the channel will have movies available throughout the year, Ms. Raven said. “We feel original drama is a critical part of our strategy” and sets the stage for the development of dramatic series.

“By the end of this year, early next year, we’ll be positioned to add that to the lineup,” she said.

The reality shows in production for A&E are “Inked,” about the colorful characters in a Las Vegas tattoo parlor; “Criss Angel Mindfreak,” a show from Angel Productions and The Firm about the illusionist who performs stunts in the street, and “”Roller Girls.”

“Roller Girls” is “very fast, very dramatic, very cinematic,” Ms. Raven said. “It’s really an amazing look at these women who have their day jobs and at night are competitors. It’s another example of our team here really having their finger on the pulse of popular culture.”

While A&E’s reality shows have proved to be ratings winners, observers have questioned whether the shows are cheapening the high-quality image the network built over the years.

Ms. Raven maintained that A&E’s reality series, including “Growing Up Gotti” and “Roller Girls,” fit the spirit of “Biography,” the series that helped establish the network.

“It’s telling stores about people and the human condition. And we’ve taken that into the 2005 world. It’s a contemporary version. It’s contemporary storytelling,” she said.

What the series have in common is “they’re not contrived. They’re focused on characters, and they have compelling stories to tell.”

A&E has also shelled out big bucks for off-network shows. “24” and “CSI Miami” hit the air in 2005-06, and “The Sopranos,” bought for a record $2.5 million per episode, will be on in 2006-07.

“Buyers are excited about these shows because they’re in our demo,” Ms. Raven said, adding that if they’re looking forward to “The Sopranos,” they should buy this season to establish a base.

“We’re positioning ourselves for being in the top 10 networks in our demographics,” she said. “They should start talking to us now because we’re positioning ourselves for the future.”