‘Biography’ rewrite

A&E's signature series heads to sib net

A&E has decided to cancel its once-signature series “Biography” in August, handing it off to its Biography Channel sibling.

“Biography,” hosted by Peter Graves, premiered on A&E April 6, 1987, and quickly became one of the network’s bellwether shows.

By 1994, A&E had moved it from one night a week to its highest-visibility timeslot: every weeknight at 8. Through those years, the series also began shifting focus from political and historical personages to showbiz figures in order to beef up the ratings.

The Biography Channel is taking exclusive charge of the “Biography” franchise (with current host Harry Smith) while the network is on a roll in the Nielsens. Outlet has shot up by more than 50% in primetime in total viewers for the season to date (Sept. ’05 to May ’06) and by 60% in adults 25-54.

A&E is relinquishing “Biography” because the network has embarked on a push to lower the average age of its viewership by putting on reality shows like “Chris Angel: Mindfreak,” “Inked” and “Dog the Bounty Hunter.”

As these new shows joined the A&E schedule, the network began cutting back on “Biography,” relegating it to three hours back to back on Fridays. The ploy has worked: A&E has shaved 15 years off its primetime median age (from 61 three years ago to about 46 in the last month).

And, beginning in September, A&E will play reruns of “CSI: Miami” Monday through Friday at 8 p.m. in the old “Biography” timeslot.

Tom Heymann, senior VP and general manager of Biography Channel, said the network has greenlit 64 more “Biography” hours in the next year, zeroing in on such people as the Onassis family, Jamie Oliver, Russell Simmons, George Lopez, Anthony Hopkins, Grace Slick, Elmore Leonard and Olivia Newton-John.