A&E Slate Still in Docu-Soap Mode

Apr 24, 2006  •  Post A Comment

A&E won’t fix what ain’t broken.

The network is greenlighting a new docu-soap reality series, piloting another docu-soap and renewing just about every show on its schedule-which, by the way, consists of mostly docu-soaps.

The new series is “Sons of Hollywood,” which A&E executive VP and general manager Bob DeBitetto dubs “the real life ‘Entourage.'”

“It’s got it all. It’s got famous people, Hollywood, and it will be easy to communicate what the show is about,” he said. “It delivers what we are obsessed with, which is great docu-soap storytelling.”

The series chronicles the lifestyles of rich and famous childhood friends Randy Spelling (son of producer Aaron Spelling) and Sean Stewart (son of musician Rod Stewart) and talent agent Dave Weintraub. Eight episodes have been ordered, and the show is set for debut early next year. J.T. Taylor (“The Osbournes”) will executive produce.

Alternately, a new A&E pilot, “The Beach,” is best billed as “the real-life ‘Baywatch,'” Mr. DeBitetto said. The show follows a group of lifeguards working in Huntington Beach, Calif.

In addition, the network has given renewal orders to seven series-“Dog the Bounty Hunter,” “Intervention,” “King of Cars,” “Criss Angel Mindfreak,” “Inked,” “Dallas SWAT” and “The First 48.”

The only show left at the curb: “Rollergirls.”

The docu-soap focus has helped A&E skew younger, though at the expense of some of its overall audience. For 2005, the network was up 12 percent among adults 18 to 49, though down 6 percent overall, according to Nielsen Media Research. For the first quarter of this year, the story is similar: The network is up 2 percent among 18 to 49, down 15 percent overall.

Drama Forthcoming

One way or another, A&E’s story is set to change radically in the coming year, once HBO’s “The Sopranos” makes its basic cable premiere on A&E in early 2007. The network’s executives have been preparing a slate of new original dramas in the hope of launching them alongside the off-net run of “Sopranos.” The network will launch an extensive branding ad campaign-the largest in the network’s history-starting in the fourth quarter in anticipation of the “Sopranos” launch, followed by a campaign to sustain “Sopranos” interest in 2007.

A&E Television Networks President and CEO Abbe Raven said at the company’s upfront presentation last week that AETN will invest $500 million in new programming across its channels, which in addition to A&E are the Biography Channel, History Channel and History International.

Mr. DeBitetto declined to indicate how big a slice the flagship channel would receive, but said he plans to televise two original dramas by next summer-and not at the expense of the network’s reality slate.

“You can expect to see us doing roughly the same amount of reality as we have the last two years, but just with the addition of drama development,” he said. “For ‘The Sopranos,’ the campaign should be one that’s scaled to the importance of the show, and that means the biggest campaign we’ve ever done.”

Ms. Raven also noted A&E is close to a deal to put some of its programming on iTunes, but details were not available at press time.