New Chapter at Biography

The Biography Channel continues to expand its profile. The digital service, a spinoff from A&E Network’s erstwhile signature show, will add a number of new series, acquisitions and specials to its lineup, including a look at NASCAR drivers.

The moves continue the network’s evolution away from a major reliance on installments of the series Biography. That push began in earnest in 2004, according to senior vice president and general manager Thomas Heymann.

It picked up speed in 2005, when Biography Channel unveiled 200 hours of new programming and began offering films like The Hours, Chariots of Fire, The Crossing and The Riverman from the ranks of theatricals and made-for-television movies under the “Bio Pics” umbrella.

“This is reflective of our strategy to offer compelling stories all about people through series and other forms,” he said.

The gambit is evidently paying off. Last year, the network rolled into 4 million more homes to finish 2005 with 35 million subscribers. Primetime viewership gains, extending to six straight quarters, outstripped the rate of those additions. Heymann said the service rang up a 72% rise among its target audience of adults 25 to 54 in 2005 versus its 2004 level, and posted a 47% advance against adults 18 to 49.

Like last year, the network in 2006 plans to unveil 200 hours of new programming, which will include new episodes of Notorious, Hollywood’s 10 Best, Dead Famous: Ghostly Encounters and 40 new Biography installments, to premiere on A&E before migrating to the service. The series’ spotlight will shine on Jerry Garcia, Tom Jones, Cat Stevens and Martina McBride, among other musicians.

Heymann said the network has done very well with the musical genre, as evidenced by the breakout of Bio Country, which focuses on country and western artists.

New series this year include Crime Stories, a documentary show that will place viewers on the other side of the police tape; and Psychics, which Heymann said will show detectives working with those who dwell in the supernatural on “different challenging cases.” Biography has ordered 15 half-hours, which will debut in June.

Heymann has high hopes for NASCAR Driven to Win, which is being created in conjunction with NASCAR Images, the motor sports’ production unit. The 13 half-hours begin revving up in March, with under-the-hood looks at young drivers like Kyle Busch, Kasey Kahne and Greg Biffle.

“We’ll look at these drivers, their careers and lives, both on and off the track,” he said

Noting NASCAR’s popularity among women, Heymann anticipates that Driven To Win, which the network showcased at the Television Critics Association tour last week, will ride well with Biography’s core viewer — women comprise 70% of its audience — while bringing more males into the tent.

On the acquisition front, Biography will present the seventh season of Midsomer Murders, the acclaimed British crime drama that has aired on A&E.