A&E Builds a Nightly Docu Franchise
A&E Network is hoping to create a nightly franchise
similar to Biography in the contemporary documentary genre by stripping Investigative
Reports at 9 p.m. starting this week with Bill Kurtis as anchor.
"We're putting our bets on serious contemporary
documentaries," A&E senior vice president of programming Michael Cascio said.
"People are hungry for information. Now, every night at 9, they know it will be
there, much like Biography."
A year ago, A&E began running five documentary series,
including one night of Investigative Reports, weeknights at 9 p.m., with all of the
shows anchored by Kurtis.
In addition to Investigative Reports, the lineup
included Inside Story, American Justice, L.A. Detectives and The
Unexplained.The documentary strip has been averaging a 2.2 Nielsen Media
Research rating, up 6 percent from last year.
But with its sister service, The History Channel,
concentrating on historical documentaries, A&E looked to focus more narrowly on
topical, news-oriented documentaries -- the forte of Investigative Reports, which
The documentaries that were airing on A&E 's
evening strip weren't so focused in some cases. For example, The Unexplained was
less timely and newsy, covering topics such as UFOs, Cascio said.
So Investigative Reports is being expanded to five
nights per week, replacing the current 9 p.m. documentaries, effective today (June 28).
As a result of that schedule change, American Justice will
move to 10 p.m. Wednesdays, Inside Story will eventually go on hiatus, L.A.
Detectives will be folded into Investigative Reports and The Unexplained will
move to weekends, Cascio said.
With a nightly hour-long show, Kurtis will not only be able
to devote a full 60 minutes to a topic, but he can even report on a single subject for
more than one night, Cascio said. That's what A&E is doing this week, when Investigative
Reports will dedicate five shows to the theme, "Guns in America."
"This is a place for real journalism," Cascio
said. "Investigative Reports is a documentary show, not a newsmagazine. Dateline,
20/20 and 60 Minutes are newsmagazines where you mix and match topics. We
can take a really big topic that requires a lot of depth."
Contrasting the raft of newsmagazines on broadcast in
primetime with Investigative Reports, Kurtis added, "They do short pieces of
seven to 10 minutes. We fill another niche -- long-form, or 60 minutes We can offer
long explanations with different facets of a story. And their mission is to appeal to a
mass audience -- ours is not."
The Guns in America shows have been in the works for a
year, according to Kurtis. After the high-school shootings in April in Littleton, Colo.,
Kurtis said, Investigative Reports had to reshoot the openings for the shows and do
some re-editing. He also added another one-hour show to the Guns in America group.
So in addition to the five shows at 9 p.m. this week,
Friday at 10 p.m., A&E will air Teenagers Under the Gun, where youths will
voice their thoughts on school shootings and teen violence.
Back in 1994, when A&E began to strip Biography at
8 p.m., the network's strategy got a skeptical response, according to Cascio.
Naysayers predicted that A&E would run out of people to profile for that series, and
that "we wouldn't be able to sustain it," he said.
That situation is very similar to what A&E is doing
with Investigative Reports,Cascio said, adding that there are plenty of
topics for Kurtis to delve into with a nightly hour-long show.
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