A&E spotlights drama at upfront presentation

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A&E Networks is investing more than $600 million into new content across various platforms as well as new technology, AETN president and CEO Abbe Raven told advertisers Tuesday at her company's upfront presentation in New York.

Raven said the $600 million -- which represents a 20% increase over last year's $500 million commitment -- will be put toward "new content, new media, new technology and new infrastructure" across such platforms as on-air, broadband, high definition, VOD and mobile.

"Our expertise is storytelling, and the investments we are making in original content and new technology will further establish our success as a leading global content company," she said.

She added that "we learned smart investments pay off," saying that such big investments as acquired series "The Sopranos" and "CSI: Miami" have paid off for A&E. (AETN's networks include A&E, History Channel, Biography Channel and Crime & Investigation Network.)

Among the investments in programming A&E announced Tuesday are five new scripted drama series projects in development, six unscripted projects and a four-hour miniseries based on the Michael Crichton novel "The Andromeda Strain" that's from Ridley Scott and Tony Scott.

On the scripted drama front, A&E is making its first push into that arena for the first time in more than five years. The five new projects announced Tuesday, which are in addition to the six previously announced scripted projects in the works, are:

  "The Cleaner," from CBS Paramount Network TV, about a man who decides to kick his addictions and dedicate his life to helping others.

  "The Beast," from Sony Pictures Television, about an FBI veteran who hazes his new partner, a rookie being recruited as a double agent in the investigation of his partner.

  "Homestead," from Fox Television Studios, about LAPD cops who live in the tough neighborhoods they patrol.

  "Takedown," from Warner Horizon Television, about U.S. marshals on the hunt for fugitives after a mass escape in Los Angeles.

  "Under," a young thug who joins the witness protection program and becomes an NYPD patrolman.

A&E executive vp and GM Bob DeBitetto said in an interview that the shows on the slate are unique from one another but have some common characteristics, including strong central characters rather than an ensemble, mostly self-contained storytelling and are in the crime and justice arena, for the most part.

"That's designed to capitalize on the audiences that we have as a result of 'CSI: Miami' and 'The Sopranos,' and we're also enjoying a pretty dominant position in nonfiction crime," he said.

DeBitetto said A&E execs are just starting to read scripts. He hopes to greenlight two or three pilots this year, with an eye toward launching a new series in 2008, and noted that a few more projects could be added to the development slate "before we're through."

Meanwhile, "Andromeda Strain," centering on military and scientific efforts to contain a deadly bacteria, is set to go into production in the summer in Vancouver. It will be directed by two-time Oscar nominee Mikael Salomon ("Backdraft," "The Abyss"), with a script written by Pulitzer Prize winner Robert Schenkkan ("The Quiet American"). The Scotts and David W. Zucker are executive producing for Scott Free Prods., and Tom Thayer is executive producer for Traveler's Rest Films.

DeBitetto said "Strain" represents a decision to move away from doing two-hour movies and focus on scripted series and miniseries.

"For years, we've done TV movies and seen success -- as with 'Flight 93' (for example) -- but I think we have found frankly, as others have, diminishing returns, so we're really getting out of that business and focusing our energies on hour drama series and longform events of four or six hours or maybe more," he said. "Something that really rises to the level of event television with marquis auspices -- we think that will be a great complement to our overall commitment to dramatic entertainment."

DeBitetto said he's looking to air one scripted longform "event" a year.

In the unscripted arena, A&E announced two new series -- the tentatively titled "Crime 360," showing real-life criminal investigations as they unfold, and "The Rookies," revolving around police rookies in hurricane-ravaged Louisiana -- along with a new pilot, "The Pendletons," starring Thomas Pendleton of A&E's "Inked" series as he goes on a "nationwide tattooing tour."

The series join the previously announced "The Two Coreys," starring Corey Haim and Corey Feldman, and "Paranormal State," which follows college student Ryan Buell and the student members of one of the first university-sanctioned paranormal research groups in the country, along with the already announced pilot "Good in the Hood," which showcases stories of redemption.

Meanwhile, A&E also announced two new broadband sites -- ParanormalState.com, to coincide with the premiere of the series, and a broadband version of Crime & Investigation Network -- in addition to two Web-exclusive series for aetv.com: "Nick's World," starring Nick Simmons of A&E's "Gene Simmons Family Jewels," and "Dog 2.0," an animated version of A&E's "Dog the Bounty Hunter."
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