A&E ups drama with reality

Set to spend $650 mil in '08 on programming, new media

A&E Television Networks will spend $650 million on new programming across TV and new media in 2008, up $50 million from a year ago and up 30% compared with 2006.

"Over the last few years, we have seen all of our development and our investments bring extraordinary results," AETN chief Abbe Raven said at the network's upfront Monday at the Morgan Library in Manhattan.

A&E rolled out a new logo and branding -- "Real Life. Drama." -- that will launch Memorial Day weekend.

"It's a pretty accurate description of who we are and what we do," A&E executive vp and GM Bob DeBitetto said.

A&E also said it will launch a second scripted series in early 2009; the top contenders are "The Beast," starring Patrick Swayze, and "Danny Fricke," starring Connie Nielsen. The new series will join the upcoming "The Cleaner," which will debut in the summer. "Cleaner" star Benjamin Bratt was at the upfront, where A&E screened the first two acts of the pilot.

The network, which just finished the best quarter in its history, also announced three new unscripted series: "The Squad," about a prison police force; "Psychic Kids: Children of the Paranormal," tied to existing series "Paranormal State"; and "Jacked," about auto theft.

History had its own star power with an appearance by top reality producer Mark Burnett, who is pairing with the channel for "Expedition: Stanley and Livingstone."

History also announced several new series, including "Evolve," about the evolution of nature; "Extreme Trains"; "The Works," about the history of items from motorcycles to steel; "Sandhogs," about tunnel diggers in New York City; and a CGI-driven series called "What Went Down" that merges graphics with history.

Specials include "Moonshot," a two-hour documentary that will air on the 40th anniversary of Apollo 11 next year; a six-hour miniseries on the Old West called "Cowboys"; and "The American Future," a four-hour special on four issues important yesterday, today and tomorrow.

"We're coming off not only a record-setting quarter but a year for us," said History Channel GM Nancy Dubuc. "The blood in the veins of our development pipeline is just heating up."