Ratings costly for cable duo

Upfront unveils info on A&E, History Channel

A&E and History Channel will shell out a record $650 million in programming costs this year to keep their ratings momentum going.

That revelation is the highlight of the upfront speech this evening by Abbe Raven, CEO of the two networks, at a gathering of advertisers in New York.

A&E shot up by 20% in total primetime viewers in 2007.

While A&E leveled off in the first quarter, History delivered a banner frame, with total viewers growing by 20% vs. the same period in 2007. Both A&E and History finished in the top 10 among all cable nets in their adults 25-54 target demo during the first quarter.

Bob DeBitetto, exec VP and g.m. of A&E, told the media buyers at the Morgan Library Museum that the network has commissioned three reality series:

  • “The Squad,” which deals with a police unit that investigates crimes committed at the Tehachapi maximum-security prison

  • “Psychic Kids: Children of the Paranormal,” which enlists a Columbia U. psychologist and a medium named Chip Coffey to help children with unusual mental abilities

  • “Jacked,” which follows the Auto Theft Task Force in northern New Jersey as they apprehend car thieves.

Nancy Dubuc, exec VP and g.m. of History Channel, said the cabler is looking for another series hit like “Ice Road Truckers” with “Sandhogs,” which will kick off in the third quarter with 12 episodes under the “American Originals” banner.

Dubuc disclosed that she has signed off on “Eyewitness of 9/11,” a two-hour special consisting of a chronological account of images of the day of the attack on the World Trade Center. The spesh will rely on raw footage captured by non-pros on the scene who wielded camcorders and cell-phone cameras. It will contain no music or narration.

The series announced at the upfront for History include one about evolution, another about modern trains from around the world and a third called “Battles B.C.”

Two-hour special “Moonshot” will revisit the landing of the first man on the moon on the 40th anniversary of the event.

As previously reported, History has joined with Mark Burnett to produce an eight-hour retracing of Henry Morton Stanley’s successful quest to find Dr. David Livingstone. Five experienced explorers will follow Stanley’s path using only a compass and the map and journal from Stanley’s original expedition.

At the upfront, DeBitetto will talk about A&E’s commitment to “Cleaner,” from CBS Paramount Network TV. In the network’s first scripted series in more than seven years, Benjamin Bratt plays an interventionist who helps people with various addictions.

A&E has bought cable-TV rights to “Criminal Minds” in a shared window with Ion TV, which has the broadcast rights. Net has also renewed such successful reality series as “Intervention,” “Gene Simmons: Family Jewels,” “Paranormal State,” “Criss Angel Mindfreak,” “Crime 360,” “The First 48,” “The Two Coreys” and “Parking Wars.”

Ad-agency execs were treated to a new A&E logo at the upfront, with the tagline “Real Life. Drama.”

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