A&E Unwraps 'Real-Life Dramas’

One year after a brand repositioning, A&E Network will look to hammer home its “real-life drama” message with the return of its popular scripted series The Cleaner, as well as the development of several new scripted drama shows.

The network will also fortify its unscripted roster with nine returning shows and seven new entries as part of its 2009-10 upfront programming slate, according to A&E Network and Bio president and general manager Bob DeBitetto.

“I think in the past year, we’ve made great headway among our advertisers and viewers in having them understand what A&E is today,” he said.

Indeed, the network is coming off a strong first-quarter performance, averaging 1.5 million viewers, up 4% from 2008’s 1.4 million. The network also set a first-quarter record for most viewers in its target adult 25-to-54 and 18-to-49 demos, averaging 751,000 and 720,000 viewers, respectively.

On the scripted front, the network has green-lighted scripted pilot Cooler Kings, from Bruckheimer Television in association with Warner Horizon Television. Executive-produced by Bruckheimer, the series focuses on an ex-Honolulu cop bent on revenge over the death of his girlfriend.

A&E also has several other crime-based shows in various stages of development: The Lead Sheet, following the police work of the LAPD tracking the Hillside Strangler in 1977-78; Central Division, tracking a pair of distaff captains as they run a dangerous downtown district in the City of Angels; The Quickening, about a bipolar LAPD detective; Night Falls, the story of a New York City cop who survives a shooting but develops an unusual neurological side effect; and New York’s Finest, about the city’s new police commissioner and his personal detail.

Conspicuously absent from the scripted drama lineup was a sophomore run of The Beast, which starred Patrick Swayze, who is suffering from pancreatic cancer. DeBitetto said the show would not go on without Swayze, and it’s still unclear whether the Dirty Dancing star would be able to continue on the show given his illness.

The Beast averaged a supbar 1.2 million subscribers, especially compared to the 4.2 million viewers pulled in by freshman counterpart series The Cleaner. That series, which centers on Benjamin Bratt as extreme interventionist William Boyd, is scheduled to return June 23 at 10 p.m., with the first of 13 hours.

A&E is also looking at a longform Western from Kevin Costner (Dances With Wolves), with the development of a four-hour, two-part miniseries that will explore how the region was settled and fought over following the Civil War.

As for its bread-and-butter unscripted franchise, A&E will return nine series to various seasons: Intervention, The First 48, Gene Simmons Family Jewels, Dog the Bounty Hunter, Crime 360, Criss Angel: Mindfreak, Paranormal State, Manhunters: Fugitive Task Force and Parking Wars.

The network is also looking to add to its unscripted bench with seven new series, including projects from Tony Danza, Steven Segal and MC Hammer. Pilot series featuring Shaquille O’Neal, Bob Saget and Russell Simmons are also on tap.

Mike Reynolds contributed to this report.

R. Thomas Umstead

R. Thomas Umstead serves as senior content producer, programming for Multichannel News, Broadcasting + Cable and Next TV. During his more than 30-year career as a print and online journalist, Umstead has written articles on a variety of subjects ranging from TV technology, marketing and sports production to content distribution and development. He has provided expert commentary on television issues and trends for such TV, print, radio and streaming outlets as Fox News, CNBC, the Today show, USA Today, The New York Times and National Public Radio. Umstead has also filmed, produced and edited more than 100 original video interviews, profiles and news reports featuring key cable television executives as well as entertainers and celebrity personalities.