A+E Networks Execs Bullish on Upfront Market With Bill Clinton, Betty White and 160 New ‘Live PD’ Episodes

Bill Clinton, Betty White and Dan Abrams (in A&E's Live PD) - Getty - Publicity still - Split - H 2020
Gary Gershoff/Getty Images; David Livingston/Getty Images; A&E

Group president Paul Buccieri says the portfolio is set with a full slate of originals through late 2021 — regardless of when normal production can resume.

The A+E Networks head into a delayed and downsized upfront market with a slew of new projects — Bill Clinton, Betty White, Leonardo DiCaprio and Jamie Lee Curtis are among those attached to new projects — but it's the cable portfolio's current slate that’s inspiring internal confidence in a tumultuous economy.

"The key message for us is that we already have big, meaningful, high-quality content that can air between now and Q3 of next year," A+E Networks group president Paul Buccieri tells THR. "We don't have to adhere to a fall schedule. We have over 1,000 hours on our shelves that hasn't aired yet. We have over 50 series in postproduction and we're in pre-production on hundreds of more hours."

Buccieri, whose primary trio of A&E, History and Lifetime all had new project announcements Thursday morning, says that the portfolio is actually fully stocked on programming through September 2021 — regardless of when the widespread production halts in the face of the COVID-19 pandemic are lifted.

"Our clients can see our product that has actually been produced," he added. "Buyers can see more than just a pilot. They can watch multiple episodes, because a lot of them are ready."

As for the ad-buyers, who in any other year would be in the midst of a months-long schmoozefest from both both cable, broadcast and digital, A+E Networks ad sales executive vp Peter Olsen says conversations with the community only slid back by four to six weeks.

"In the last two weeks a sense of normalcy, or as normal as anything can be anymore, has reemerged," says Olsen, noting that early talks have been promising. "What TV does best is build businesses. Sometimes these crises make us refocus on the fundamentals of the business that have stood the test of time."

There are, of course, plenty of new projects to catch media buyers' attention. History has the most bold-faced name, with former President Bill Clinton signing on to executive produce and star in a yet-to-be-titled documentary series that will explore the history of the American presidency. History has also three new miniseries, all produced in part by Apian Way's Leonardo DiCaprio and Jennifer Davisson. All tentatively titled, two focus on presidents (Abraham Lincoln and Theodore Rosevelt, both with historian Doris Kearns Goodwin on board) and the third is being billed as a follow-up to 2012's The Men Who Built America.

History has also renewed The Food That Built America, starring Adam Richman, and given him a second vehicle in American Made.

On Lifetime, the slate of new original films includes a dual directing and starring gig for Jamie Lee Curtis in How We Sleep at Night: The Sara Cunningham Story, royals biopic Harry & Meghan: Escaping the Palace and a handful of Christmas movies — chief among them an untitled feature starring 98-year-old comic actress Betty White.

A&E, ever leaning into live programming, has a new comic series starring Jeff Foxworthy. What’s It Worth? Live, which will give viewers across the U.S. the chance to bid on and purchase rare items on live TV, has been given an eight-episode order. Additionally, A&E has ordered another memorabilia-based show in wrestling series The Quest for Lost WWE Treasures (working title).

Additionally, among several key renewals across the portfolio, A&E has added 160 episodes onto the already substantial order for juggernaut Live PD. The series is among the few that's been able to navigate the current pandemic, airing specials focusing on first responders since so many states went on lockdown.

Live PD has been a smash success for A&E, dominating cable ratings on the weekend and filling an unprecedented number of hours for the network. The network was so confident in the series that it earned a 450-hour renewal back in 2018.

"A&E has always been on the forefront in bringing new nonfiction formats to television, most recently evidenced in the live space," said network executive vp and head of programming Elaine Frontain Bryant in a Thursday statement. "We are proud to not only continue this success with additional episodes of the groundbreaking live documentary series Live PD but to also expand into new horizons with a never-before-attempted live television auction."