×
You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

History Channel Steps Up Big Impact Biz

'Hatfields' giant success opens doors to second round of major originals

Hitting it out of the ballpark on the first at-bat is the aim of any cable programmer looking to shift into scripted viability.

Few, however, could have expected that History’s 2012 miniseries “Hatfields & McCoys” would reach an astonishing 14.3 million in the last of three nights.

“It outperformed my expectations,” says Dirk Hoogstra, senior VP of development and programming for History. “It gave us a lot of confidence moving forward.”

That’s something of an understatement. If anything, the success of “Hatfields” gave formerly docu-heavy History a mandate to make more original scripted programming. And now the cabler roars back with two high-profile, epic-format series: “Vikings” (nine episodes slated, with possible continuation) and the 10-episode limited-run “The Bible.”

Both draw from name creators. “Vikings” is the brainchild of “Tudors” creator and writer Michael Hirst, while “Bible” has emerged as a “legacy” project (as Hoogstra describes it) from reality show producer Mark Burnett.

The Bible” was pitched and in development before Hoogstra joined the net in 2007. “Vikings,” however, came to be when a story in the trades about MGM developing a script based on the Nordic leaders led him to set up an immediate lunch to grab the nascent project.

Both shows tell history-based tales, but with a certain amount of fictionalization thrown in. The actual level of history to fiction is being calibrated to match the brand aspirations of the network, says Hoogstra.

“We are figuring out what our balance is and how far we can push that as far as being factually accurate,” he says. “We’re being cautious about that.”

He recognizes that the subject matter of each show is potentially flammable, depending on audience expectations.

“We’ve been very deliberately cautious,” he says, noting Hirst’s attention to detail and the “Vikings” commitment to consultation with historians.

Additionally, he says, Bible discussion “can be so divisive,” but, “Mark and his team have done an amazing job at presenting these stories in a way that would be all-inclusive. It’s a very simple story: This book has been influential over time, and these are some of the stories in it.”

“Authentic” and “epic” seem to be the buzzwords for both, but there’s more to deciding to invest in such high-profile series than just fulfilling a brand mission. “Hatfields” gave the network a valuable learning experience in how to market such big-impact skeins.

And then there’s the cachet factor. Shows such as “The Bible” and “Vikings” can help continue History’s elevation in the perception that its scripted programming will be of the highest quality — something that began with “Hatfields & McCoys.”

“There definitely is a prestige factor,” agrees Hoogstra, “but it’s really just another tool in the tool belt as we try to compete with everybody else. It’s another type of programming with a proven track record over time that we can now figure our way in so it can help our business grow.”

No matter how “Vikings” and “The Bible” perform in the ratings, however, it’s unlikely that they’ll shift the rudder too swiftly in the network’s overall original programming strategy. More scripted projects are in the works, including a Texas Rangers origin story.

“Our core business will always be a volume of hit reality shows,” says Hoogstra. “That’s the basis for everything. We’ll never stop doing that. What we’re doing now is just layering on top of that high-quality historical dramas.”

More TV

  • Catch-22 Episode 101

    TV News Roundup: Hulu Releases Trailer for George Clooney's 'Catch-22' (Watch)

    In today’s roundup, Hulu releases the official trailer for George Clooney’s “Catch-22,” and Disney Channel announces its “Andi Mack” series will end after season 3. DATES Gabriel Iglesias will star as a high school history teacher in the Netflix multicam comedy “Mr. Iglesias,” launching on June 21. The comedian teaches gifted, but misfit students and helps them [...]

  • Jussie Smollett

    Jussie Smollett Scandal: 'Empire' Cast Inks Letter Supporting Actor

    “Empire” stars Taraji P. Henson and Terrence Howard are appealing to Fox for their embattled co-star Jussie Smollett to return for the show’s sixth season. Henson, Howard, and the rest of the drama series’ top cast, penned an April 19 letter to Fox Entertainment CEO Charlie Collier, Disney TV Studios and ABC Entertainment chair Dana [...]

  • Sheryl Underwood and Mario LopezDaytime Emmy

    Daytime Emmys: New Procedures Aim to Avoid Repeat of Last Year's Winner Scandal

    A year after an awards debacle rocked the National Academy of Television Arts and Sciences (NATAS) and nearly took down the Daytime Emmys, the organization has instituted new rules that officials hope have made this year’s proceedings fairer. One major one was to stop the practice of posting acting reel submissions from some key categories [...]

  • Game of Thrones Season 8

    'Game of Thrones': Bryan Cogman Confirms His Spinoff Isn't Happening

    SPOILER ALERT: Do not keep reading unless you’ve seen “Game of Thrones” Season 8 Episode 2, titled “A Knight of the Seven Kingdoms.” Veteran “Game of Thrones” writer Bryan Cogman has confirmed that his potential spinoff series from the HBO epic will not be going ahead. “This is it for me in terms of Westeros,” Cogman told Variety. [...]

  • Alex Gansa Howard Gordon

    'Homeland' Creators Ink Multi-Year Overall Deal at Sony

    Howard Gordon and Alex Gansa have signed a multi-year overall deal at Sony Pictures Television, Variety has confirmed. The new deal means the duo will depart their longtime home at 20th Century Fox Television. In addition to Gordon and Gansa, Sony’s current roster of creators under overall deals includes Norman Lear, Anthony Hemingway, Gloria Calderon Kellett, [...]

  • Mel Robbins - Season 1 -

    'The Mel Robbins Show' Picked Up for Fall Debut in Syndication

    Sony Pictures Television announced Tuesday that “The Mel Robbins Show,” its new one-hour syndicated talk show, has been picked up by Nexstar Media Group. The show will be hosted by author and speaker Mel Robbins. It will debut in syndication on Sept. 16 and clear 90% of U.S. television households. The list of station groups [...]

  • Ken Kercheval dead

    Ken Kercheval, Cliff Barnes on 'Dallas,' Dies at 83

    Ken Kercheval, who played oil tycoon Cliff Barnes, the rival of Larry Hagman’s J.R. Ewing on “Dallas,” has died. He was 83. A spokeswoman at Frist Funeral Home in Kercheval’s hometown of Clinton, Ind., confirmed his death on Wednesday to Variety, but did not provide additional information. Kercheval and Hagman were the only two stars who [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content