×

Network aims to record scripted history again

History Originals: In the Making

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.”

History Originals: In the Making
History aims to record scripted history again | The prophet project | History, producers spread gospel in 10-hour mini | Zimmer has legacy in scoring historical epics‘Vikings’ ready to make Nordic impression

Popular on Variety

More TV

  • James Corden Variety Cover Story

    James Corden Signs Deal to Host 'Late Late Show' Through 2022

    James Corden has signed a new deal with CBS which will see him stay on as host of “The Late Late Show” through 2022. The multi-talented Brit had been in advanced negotiations with the studio since May, and the new deal is sure to see him score a substantial bump in pay. The previous deal [...]

  • Reese Witherspoon

    Reese Witherspoon, Home Edit Duo Set Lifestyle Series at Netflix

    Netflix has ordered a new lifestyle series that boasts Reese Witherspoon among its executive producers. The hour-long series will follow master home organizes Clea Sherer and Joanna Teplin, the duo behind The Home Edit company. In each episode, Sherer and Teplin will transform the lives of their clients by conquering clutter with their signature style. [...]

  • 'RuPaul's Drag Race' Renewed for Season

    VH1 Renews Two Series in 'RuPaul's Drag Race' Franchise

    “RuPaul’s Drag Race” has been renewed for Season 12 at VH1, the cabler announced Monday. Additionally, the “All Stars” version of the show has been renewed for Season 5. RuPaul made the announcement in a video, which you can see below. The flagship series will welcome a fresh group of drag queens eager to prove [...]

  • TORONTO, ON - SEPTEMBER 07: Actor

    'Fleabag' Star Andrew Scott Joins 'His Dark Materials' at HBO

    Andrew Scott, known to many as the “hot priest” from season 2 of “Fleabag,” has joined the cast of the “His Dark Materials” adaptation at HBO. The announcement was made via a tweet on the series’ official Twitter account which shows Scott on set with Lin Manuel Miranda, who is set to play Lee Scoresby [...]

  • Stephen Amell Arrow Season 5

    'Arrow' Star Stephen Amell to Lead Starz Wrestling Drama 'Heels'

    Stephen Amell has set his first major post-“Arrow” role. The actor, who will make his final outing as the bow-wielding super hero this season, has been cast as the lead in a wrestling drama series entitled “Heels,” which has been handed an eight-episode order by Starz. The hour-long drama is set in a close-knit Georgia [...]

  • Curiosity Stream Altice

    Altice USA Pacts With John Hendricks' CuriosityStream Service

    Altice USA has set a deal with John Hendricks’ CuriosityStream to expand distribution of the science- and history-focused subscription streaming service. The deal will make CuriosityStream available to all Altice USA’s 4.9 million customers across 21 states, including a big cluster serving New York and Connecticut. Altice also plans to add the CuriosityStream app to [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content