Original strategy

Pic on JFK Jr.'s wife spices A&E firstrun plan

NEW YORK — A&E plans to spend more money on original movies and reality series than ever before, hell-bent on building on the momentum that has propelled its Nielsen ratings to double-digit growth in the fourth quarter in total viewers and in adults 25-54.

Senior VP of programming Bob DeBitetto declined to discuss dollar figures, but the total is almost certain to go beyond the $230 million that Kagan World Media projects for A&E’s program budget during 2004.

The money outlay will be big because four fresh reality series are a go for 2004, A&E has committed to a second season of the BBC-produced scripted action series “MI-5,” and network execs have greenlit development for five original movies and another four reality series, plus a batch of nonscripted specials.

Bergin biopic

One highlight, slated for March, is “The Other Man,” a one-hour docu dealing with Michael Bergin, the Calvin Klein model who had a long-term relationship with Carolyn Bessette, both before and during her marriage to John F. Kennedy Jr. The special features an exclusive interview with Bergin by Judith Regan, whose ReganBooks imprint of HarperCollins will publish Bergin’s tell-all book the week of the A&E spec.

The original movies in development for 2004-05 include the following:

  • “Brooke Ellison,” a biopic about a quadriplegic woman who fought through her handicap and graduated from Harvard, delivering the commencement speech. It’s from Jaffe/Braunstein Prods. and Christopher Reeve’s production company.

  • “Riverman,” which deals with the Green River killer, who murdered more than 40 people, and the profiler who helped track him down. Exec producers are Hawk Koch and Peter Lance.

  • “Forever Barbie: The Ruth Handler Story,” which focuses on the woman who founded the Mattel Toy Co. and created the Ken and Barbie dolls. Exec producers are City Entertainment, Josh Maurer and Alixandre Witlin.

  • “Chessmates” (working title), about a group of inner-city public-school kids who learn, from a dedicated English teacher, how to play chess. They go on to beat a team from an elite private school. Lisa Demberg and David Madden are exec producers for Fox TV Studios.

  • “The Last Days of Pompeii,” a CGI-laden disaster flick which details the eruption of Mount Vesuvius in 79 A.D., which destroyed the city of Pompeii and most of its inhabitants. Guido de Angelis and Franz Landerer are exec producers.

Reality fare

Reality series include “Dearly Departed,” about the inner workings of a San Diego funeral home; “The First 48,” which follows homicide detectives as they solve their cases; “Family Forensics,” putting forensics experts to the task of anatomizing families based on the way they keep their homes (for example, what they store in their medicine cabinets); and “Dog, the Bounty Hunter” (working title), about real-life bounty hunter Dwayne Dog Chapman, his partner Beth and their 12 children.

DeBitetto said shows like these “will improve the audience delivery of our target demo, adults 25-54, particularly the sweet spot of the baby boom: upscale, affluent men and women in their 40s.”

A&E, DeBitetto said, has also bought exclusive cable rerun rights to CBS series “CSI: Miami” and has purchased dozens of theatrical movies from companies such as Universal, Paramount and Miramax.

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