Cablers take SWATs

A&E, Court TV tout Texas reality skeins

A&E and Court TV are duking it out via competing reality shows featuring the SWAT teams of the Lone Star state.

Rivals got into it earlier this year, first when Court TV lost out to A&E in the bidding war for rights to HBO drama “The Sopranos.” Then Court topper Henry Schleiff told Daily Variety he was ready to take A&E to court over the latter’s planned digital net, the Crime & Investigation Network, which he claimed infringes on Court TV’s trademark, the Investigation Channel.

Now, A&E is about to unveil “Dallas SWAT,” a six-hour series documenting the day-to-day of the Dallas police department’s high-stakes tactical unit. Production has already begun on the Granada-produced skein, slated to premiere early next year.

Over at Court TV, cabler has pacted with Lion Television on the tentatively titled “Texas SWAT.” Court has ordered a pair of half-hour pilots — both of which are also skedded to air early next year — that follow not just the Dallas SWAT unit but also the teams of San Antonio, Austin, Beaumont, Amarillo, Plano, Houston, Abilene, El Paso, Garland and San Marcos.

Shooting will not start until September.

A&E moved into production months ago around the same time Lion TV was shopping a similar concept around to various networks. That said, “Dallas SWAT” is a sort of spinoff of A&E’s documentary series “The First 48,” also produced by Granada, which chronicles the first 48 hours of a crime scene. “First 48” ranks as the cabler’s second highest-rated series.

Net exec VP-GM Robert DeBitetto says “Dallas” will retain the spirit of “First 48.” Each episode “will chronicle a day in the life of a SWAT officer whose life is on the line, hour by hour. We’re confident the show will strengthen our already first-class justice franchise.”

Net’s other justice-themed shows include “Dog the Bounty Hunter,” “Cold Case,” “City Confidential” and “American Justice.” In regards to Court TV’s competing SWAT show, a rep for A&E said, “We’re proud to be the groundbreaking leaders in the justice programming genre on cable with the top four of five shows. We think ‘Swat’ will give us a clean sweep for top 5.”

In Court’s “Texas,” U.K. producer/director Jeff Chagrin will follow SWAT teams into the homes of suspects. Cabler just announced it was splitting its brand into a news-driven daytime and entertainment-oriented primetime. Court, in fact, just scooped up rights to UPN hour “Fastlane.” Should project get a full series pickup, it would join a lineup that includes “Parco PI,” a weekly show that goes behind the scenes of a family-run private investigation agency, and long running hit “COPS.”

Court’s exec VP of documentaries and specials Ed Hersh responded to news of A&E’s planned skein by saying, “We think by working with one of the top producers in the world, and covering the entire state of Texas, that we will bring more firepower to what’s bound to eventually be a ‘seriously entertaining’ show on Court TV.”

Some of reality’s recent copycat wars have included NBC’s “The Contender” vs. Fox’s “The Next Great Champ,” ABC’s “Wife Swap” vs. Fox’s “Trading Spouses” and ABC’s “Supernanny” vs. Fox’s “Nanny 911.”

In May, A&E averaged 956,000 viewers in primetime, while Court TV averaged 750,000.

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