Biography pens next chapter

Cabler hands over hit show to net

A&E’s hand-me-downs have transformed its seven-year-old offspring, the Biography Channel, into the belle of the Nielsen ball.

Lifted by “Biography,” the series, the Biography Channel has engineered bigger gains than any other ad-supported cable network during the 2005-06 season. It soared by 58% among total viewers in primetime (compared to those of September ’04 through May ’05), climbing by 60% in the 25- to-54 demo and by 53% among 18-49.

Of course, Biography is starting from such a small Nielsen base that, even with the gains, it’s averaging only about 100,000 total primetime viewers (compared to an average of 1 million for A&E). Biography is not even among the top-50-rated ad-supported cable networks in 2005-06.But, starting in August, the channel “will become the exclusive keeper of the ‘Biography’ flame,” says Bob DeBitetto, exec VP of programming for the A&E Networks. A&E will drop “Biography” from its schedule after almost two decades as A&E’s signature show, handing it off to its corporate progeny.

“Biography” is “no longer a good fit for A&E,” says Tom Heymann, senior VP and general manager of Biography.

A&E has done an extensive makeover in the past few years to extract more dollars out of Madison Avenue. Shedding its image as an old-folks network, A&E has lowered its average age since 2004 by embracing such hyped-up reality shows as “Inked,” “Airline” and “Dog the Bounty Hunter.”

Other former A&E shows that have taken up residence on Biography Channel include a stable of European detectives from Sherlock Holmes to Hercule Poirot; doc series such as “Ancient Mysteries,” “City Confidential” and “Mysteries of the Bible”; and reruns of oldies like “Murder, She Wrote” and “Columbo.”

Embracing the “Biography” series, Heymann says he’s determined to inject it with a jolt of adrenaline.

“The show had gotten stale, and people tagged it with the phrase ‘old, dead, white guys,’ ” he says. “Every episode had to begin with those damn baby pictures.”

According to Heymann, the new episodes “will open much faster, and we’ll give viewers a reason right from the beginning why they should stick around.”

Biography won’t eliminate photos of the babies, but don’t expect their button-cute heads to rear up until after the commercial break.

Begun in 1998 as a receptacle of library product from the A&E vault, Biography has grown steadily, to the point where it will pocket a modest cash flow of $12 million this year, according to Kagan Research.

Biography’s position as a digital network has limited the speed of its subscriber growth. It reaches only 37 million households (compared to A&E’s 90 million), but Heymann plans to use the recent Nielsen gains to mount another assault on the cable systems that don’t carry Biography.

An additional weapon in Biography’s arsenal is the $22 million it plans to spend on programming in 2006, a 10% hike over last year’s figure. Sixty-four “Biography” hours will go into production in the next year.

Heymann also touts Biography’s family-oriented programming, its 70% skew toward women and its appeal to upscale audiences as further enticements to advertisers and cable operators.

Not to mention a third season of the half-hour “Famous” profiles, which kicks off this month with celebrities ranging from Reese Witherspoon and Kiefer Sutherland to Scarlett Johansson and Colin Farrell. “Famous” focuses on the career, not the full life.

“Psychic Investigators,” another half-hour original series, premieres this month with 15 episodes. It’s a reality show that deals with the increasing use by law enforcement of people with paranormal abilities to collaborate in solving crimes with no physical evidence or no logical suspects.

Entertainment is clearly a key ingredient of the network.

“The last thing we want,” says DeBitetto, “is for people to think of Biography Channel as a homework assignment.”

More TV

  • La Casa de Papel Netflix

    Madrid Region Booms as an International Production Hub

    Madrid is booming as never before in its 125-year film history; arguably, no other European site is currently transforming so quickly into a global production hub. A 20-minute drive north of the Spanish capital, a large white-concrete hanger has been built beside the Madrid-Burgos motorway, at the entrance to Tres Cantos, a well-heeled satellite village and industrial [...]

  • Game of Thrones: Plastic Water Bottle

    'Game of Thrones': Plastic Water Bottle Spotted in Series Finale

    Two weeks after a rogue coffee cup made its way into an episode of “Game of Thrones,” another modern-day refreshment popped up in Westeros, this time in the form of a plastic water bottle. During one of the most important scenes in Sunday’s farewell episode, in which “The Iron Throne” was decided,  a water bottle [...]

  • Westworld Season 3 Trailer

    'Westworld' Season 3 Trailer Focuses on New Cast Member Aaron Paul

    Ahead of the final episode of “Game of Thrones,” HBO released the first trailer for the new season of another flagship show: “Westworld.” The first look at the third season of the sci-fi show puts the focus on new series regular Aaron Paul, best known for his run on “Breaking Bad.” The trailer doesn’t reveal [...]

  • AMERICAN IDOL - "218 (Season Finale)"

    Adam Lambert Does Double Performing Duty on 'Idol' as New Winner is Crowned

    A new “American Idol” winner was crowned Sunday night, but not before Adam Lambert returned to the stage for the season finale for a pair of performances that included his new single and a duet with eliminated contestant Dimitrius Graham Sunday. The show concluded with Louisiana teen Laine Hardy showered in confetti as he was [...]

  • Beyonce Emilia Clarke

    Emilia Clarke Worried Beyonce Would Hate Daenerys After 'Game of Thrones'' Final Season

    After eight seasons as the Mother of Dragons, “Game of Thrones” star Emilia Clarke has a lot of celebrity fans. But the most impressive? Probably Queen Bey. In a New Yorker interview posted after Sunday night’s series finale, Clarke revealed that she met Beyonce at an Oscars after-party hosted by the musician and her husband, [...]

  • Game of Thrones Finale

    Why the 'Game of Thrones' Finale Couldn't Have Satisfied Everyone

    The “Game of Thrones” finale may have achieved a strange feat: Aiming for fan service while being constrained, by its very nature, to the reality that it would end up pleasing only very few. The episode was larded with character touches designed for devotees — from a title, at long last, for fan favorite Bronn, [...]

  • Game of Thrones Finale

    'Game of Thrones': Celebrity Fans Have Mixed Reaction to Series Finale

    SPOILER ALERT: Do not keep reading if you have not seen the series finale of “Game of Thrones,” titled “The Iron Throne.”  Whether you loved it or hated it, the series finale of “Game of Thrones” was one for the history books. After the final episode aired Sunday night, fans across the globe took to [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content