A&E scripting '08 dramas

Targeted to fans of its off-net buys

A&E Network is starting to firm up its first scripted drama series development slate in more than five years, with projects from Joel Silver, Steven Bochco and Gary Randall among the initial group of six crime and justice dramas.

Bob DeBitetto, A&E's executive vp and general manager, said the slate includes a diverse range of projects that features great characters, strong storytelling, self-contained episodes, talented writers and producers and the ability to take advantage of the "powerful platforms" afforded by the acquired series "CSI: Miami" and "The Sopranos."

"We have to be convinced that the audiences (who watch) those shows will have an interest in whatever original drama we put forth," he said. "It doesn't mean we are looking (specifically) for forensic crime procedurals or organized crime sagas, but broadly speaking, whatever genres we undertake, it needs to be something we believe will be of interest to fans of 'CSI: Miami' and 'The Sopranos.' "

The projects on the network's initial development slate — with more announcements expected this year — are:

"Dry River," a crime drama from Warner Horizon Television and executive producer Silver that's set in a wealthy Texas border community. It focuses on the local sheriff and the federal agent newly assigned to the city who not only clash over their crime-fighting agendas but also happen to be an estranged father and son. Michael Frost Beckner will write the script.

The untitled Steven Bochco project, centering on a happily married couple who are partners in a family law practice specializing in divorce clients. Bochco will exec produce the project, being written by Jonathan Abrahams.

"Y3," about a thief seeking redemption from a crime gone terribly awry who wears an NYPD cop uniform to help solve crimes, earning the moniker Y3, the police code for impersonating an officer. Dan Therriault will write and executive produce. Randall will exec produce through Fox Television Studios.

The untitled NYPD anti-terrorist project, also from Fox TV Studios, centers on a secretive anti-terrorist unit of the NYPD, born out of the Sept. 11 attacks. Andrew Tennenbaum and Jason Hoffs are the executive producers. Bruce McKenna will write the script and executive produce.

"The Hunt," about a former LAPD cop who served time in prison for his part in the Rampart scandal and who finds himself outside the criminal justice system looking in. Unlike most crime procedurals, A&E said, this will spend "ample" time with each week's villain. "Hunt" was created by feature scribe Sheldon Turner and will be produced by Jennifer Klein through her Apartment 3B Prods. shingle.

"Johnny the Great," which centers on a hedonistic defense attorney who wheels and deals in front of the courts while trying to gain control of both his untrustworthy clients and his own self-destructive behaviors. The script was written by Billy Finkelstein.

Senior vp drama programming Tana Nugent Jamieson and her Los Angeles-based team, including vp original drama programming Scott Vila, spearheaded development of the slate.

DeBitetto said he hopes to have a total of 12-16 projects in development by spring and also is looking to develop projects that "aren't squarely in the crime or justice arena."

"We're open to a variety of things, and we'll be taking some risks," he said.

DeBitetto added that he is looking to hand out "several" pilot orders with the intention of debuting at least one series in 2008 in a "showcase time period." If the network were to pick up two to series, DeBitetto plans to stagger the shows' premieres so that only one original drama is on the schedule at a time.

A&E is coming off a good year, with its performance up 10% compared with '05 in the adults 25-54 demographic (579,000 viewers), up 19% in adults 18-49 (569,000) and up 32% in adults 18-34 (254,000). This marks the second consecutive year that the network has finished No. 10 among basic cable networks in 25-54 and the first time since 2000 that it has landed in the top 10 in 18-49. Last year also was A&E's youngest-skewing year ever, with the median age falling four years from the previous year to 45.
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