UPFRONTS 2012: A+E Television Networks Exec Calls Out Turner, Discovery in Upfront Speech

Abbe Raven - P 2012
Stephen Lovekin/Getty Images

Abbe Raven - P 2012

AETN CEO Abbe Raven says A&E, History and Lifetime will not "follow the Big Bang strategy" and stock primetime with off-net reruns or "clone" other networks' unscripted shows.

Abbe Raven, president and CEO of A+E Television Networks, lobbed multiple pointed jabs at the ad-supported cable competition in her remarks during the company’s upfront presentation Wednesday evening in New York.

Noting that AETN’s core channels -- which include A&E, History and Lifetime -- are “100 percent original programming in primetime,” Raven said: “We are not following the Big Bang strategy where 75 percent of the schedule is off-broadcast programming.”

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It was a zinger aimed squarely at Turner, where the CBS comedy The Big Bang Theory airs on TBS -- at  a cost to Turner of $1.5 million an episode. Of course, multiple cable networks rely on off-network shows to fill their primetime schedule. USA airs reruns of broadcast procedurals Law & Order: SVU and NCIS. Oxygen paid $500,000 an episode for reruns of Fox’s Glee. FX has CBS comedies How I Met Your Mother and Two and a Half Men.

“We have 19 of the top 50 shows in cable,” said Raven. “That’s 40 percent of the top shows. Each of our networks has their own unique voice that viewers have come to watch and follow on multiple platforms. There is a History voice, a Lifetime voice and an A&E voice. We have three of the most powerful brands on the media landscape that speak to men, women and adults.”

But competing unscripted-based networks including TLC and TruTV were on the receiving end of the sharpest criticism. Noting the derivative nature of the reality milieu that has spawned multiple copycats of History’s Pawn Stars and A&E’s Storage Wars, Raven asserted that AETN creates genres instead of “following them.”

“Our integrity and respect for the creative community does not allow us to even think of copying other networks’ shows,” she said. “We have too much reverence for our brands to become a clone of other networks. We do not want the 25th generation of the pawn and storage shows like TLC, Tru or Discovery. We want to stick to what we do best: creating the original.”

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A&E and History are top 10 cable networks, and the network group is coming off its most-watched year ever in 2011. Pawn Stars is History’s top-rated show averaging 5.7 million viewers this season, and Storage Wars is A&E’s most-watched unscripted series with 4.6 million viewers an episode. Both series have spawned spinoffs on their respective networks. 

Nancy Dubuc, who heads up both History and Lifetime, is broadening History to include scripted programming with the Memorial Day premiere of the Kevin Costner Western The Hatfields & McCoys. Meanwhile, Lifetime continues to adhere to a three-pronged programming strategy of original scripted series, made-for-TV movies and unscripted. With Dance Moms, the network now has its first bona fide unscripted hit since Project Runway came to Lifetime from Bravo.

Separately, A&E announced Wednesday that is has picked up the South Boston-set Southie Rules from Powderhouse Productions and Magilla Entertainment. Production on the reality series is set to start immediately.

The working-class Boston enclave is about to get a bit crowded. Earlier this year, TLC announced that it has picked up Southie Pride, which follows a group of South Boston women. The unscripted series is from Jersey Shore executive producer SallyAnn Salsano

Email: Marisa.Guthrie@thr.com

Twitter: @MarisaGuthrie