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What’s Next?: ‘America,’ ‘Vikings’ among upcoming History projects

Showman of the Year 2012: A+E Networks - History

Don’t ever accuse History of being small-minded.

The programming approach to upcoming projects at the cabler is to embrace subject matter that is massive enough to inspire awe rather than “Eh.”

To that end, History’s future slate has such big-canvas doc entries as “The Men Who Built America,” “Mankind: The Story of Us,” and “The Bible,” and the 10-episode “Vikings” on the scripted side. Clearly, there is no effort to shrink from the challenge of telling immense tales.

“It’s intentional,” says senior VP Dirk Hoogstra about the effort to seize upon oversized themes. “We’ve grown so much in the last several years. With shows like ‘Pawn Stars,’ ‘American Pickers,’ ‘Swamp People’ and ‘Top Gear,’ we’ve been able to build up a stable of reality hits. What we’re doing is layering on big documentaries and dramas to match the size and breadth of the platform we’ve built.”

“The Men Who Built America,” set to air in October, is a look back at a 50-year period in history after the Civil War and the moguls who transformed the country. “Mankind” is another macro gander at human events, and what might have transpired if some things had gone differently. It’s set to debut in the fourth quarter.

Other projects coming down the pike: Ten-part docudrama “The Bible” from uberproducer Mark Burnett, and “Vikings,” which will be History’s first scripted series, is a co-production with MGM starring Gabriel Byrne. Both of those will air in 2013.

Stephen David, exec producer of “The Men Who Built America,” says he had pestered Hoogstra since 1997 about the project and kept pestering him many times over the years.

“He was always interested, but he kept saying, ‘What can we do to make it feel new?,’ ” David says. “We found ways to do that with CGI, with visual effects, with characters who were interested in innovation that draw a lot of parallels to today.

“They always seem to be about what’s next, what’s the next big thing. They create this atmosphere of inspiration where they want you to try new things, take risks, make some mistakes in the process. It allows you to really push the envelope to try new things. ‘Let’s make it bigger, newer, cooler.’ It makes it really fun to work on.”