Now that A&E has broken into cable’s top echelon, it’s focusing on staying there.
“In a nutshell, A&E is all about authentic, engaging entertainment,” says Bob De-Bitetto, the net’s president-g.m. “We look for broad pop culture trends and try to reflect upon them and serve them back to our viewers.”
That means the cross-section of reality and scripted fare that’s on the network right now will probably remain the norm, and nonscripted shows that bring comedy to real-life scenarios, such as “Storage Wars” and “Duck Dynasty,” would likely continue as well.
“We try to manage a very smart business mix,” says DeBitetto. “We would like to build up to having four successful (scripted) series in any given year. We’re not trying to become a broadcast network — to chase and compete with the volume of scripted fare that some of our competitors seem to be chasing.
“One of the reasons we have that luxury is because we’ve figured out how to generate really solid audiences on the nonfiction side. It’s not easy to create a powerful nonfiction franchise, but we seem to be able to do it. That gives us the ability to play in both the reality and scripted sandboxes. Some of cable’s really good scripted shows that have solid audiences are still maybe half the audience of one of cable’s top reality shows.”
And even though it might seem like shows about the rough-edged characters that viewers see on “Storage Wars” and “Shipping Wars” would appeal mostly to men, A&E skews almost right down the middle.
“Our network in primetime is roughly 55% female,” says DeBitetto. “We have a nice balance. I don’t have a lot of rules, but from a development and creative point of view, I know you can’t drag men kicking and screaming to watch anything that they don’t want to watch and vice versa. If I feel that’s what would have to happen, I won’t get into that business.”
DeBitetto and programming VP David McKillop also say one thing all of A&E’s diverse slate of shows have in common is nontraditional characters.
“We love characters who are in some way iconoclasts, who go against the current,” he says.
DeBitetto says Americans also are responding to shows in which families are earning their living in very independent ways.
“The economy is still not very good and along comes this genre of shows that showcase entertaining ways of people finding ways to make it on their own, without having to find a job or answer to a boss,” says DeBitetto.
While A&E will never stop scouring the creative community for its next hit, the network also knows its limits.
“More and more, we are looking for things that don’t feel like they could be on a broadcast network,” DeBitetto says. “We want our shows to be buzzy and a big hit with the audience.”