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New Chapter for Biography

In its first decade, Biography has mutated from a once-a-week tv documentary show into A&E's flagship series, extending into such other venues as home video, online, books, audio cassettes and a monthly magazine....
September 1, 1997

In its first decade, Biography has mutated from a once-a-week tv documentary show into A&E’s flagship series, extending into such other venues as home video, online, books, audio cassettes and a monthly magazine.

As it begins its second decade, Biography is poised to capture an audience abroad while plans are being formulated for a domestic Biography channel.

Nearly 500 Biography episodes have been produced and another 130 are slated for the 1997/98 season. Subjects have run the gamut from Julius Caesar to Jim Carrey, Jesus Christ to Madonna.

Domestically, Biography’s ratings have grown steadily, and backed by acclaim from tv critics and educators, the challenge facing A&E becomes keeping its audience engaged. ‘We think of Biography as a point of entry into the network for the viewer,’ Michael Cascio, vp of documentary programming at A&E, says.

Cascio says the network is planning more ‘big ticket’ biographies that include a six-hour miniseries on the Roman Emperors.

The network’s dramatic division is developing scripts with Greystone Communications for Biography-based movies which will debut on A&E in 1998.

A&E has announced plans for the Biography Channel, but the proposed network remains in the development stage until increased channel capacity becomes a reality. ‘We’ve slowed up its development because there’s no room for it,’ Cascio says. When that time comes, Cascio visualizes the new channel as an extension of the A&E series, a ‘niche within a niche,’ but not a replacement for what appears on A&E. ‘Biography on a&e is the mothership for Biography in all of its other forms,’ he says.

With The History Channel International (A&E’s global brand) now available in over 50 countries, A&E plans to engage global audiences with international versions of the series. In addition to its domestic inventory, plans call to offer new and original biographies of local interest to particular territories. Cascio is unsure whether these international productions would be A&E-produced or coproductions.

Biography employs up to 10 different production companies that specialize in various forms of storytelling. A&E frowns on acquiring product for Biography because it wants to develop the episodes in a style specific and consistent with the rest of the series.

In 1994, when A&E launched Biography as a daily strip, the network already had a backup plan prepared should the concept have failed. Since that time, Biography has become the identity of the network and proof that interesting and engaging non-fiction tv can find a sizable audience on primetime.

About The Author
Selina Chignall joins the realscreen team as a staff writer. Prior to working with rs, she covered lobbying activity at Hill Times Publishing. She also spent a year covering the Hill as a journalist with iPolitics. Her beat focused on youth, education, democratic reform, innovation and infrastructure. She holds a Master of Arts in Journalism from Western University and a Honours Bachelor of Arts from the University of Toronto.

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