A&E has entered into a coproduction agreement with Cosmos Studios, the production company founded last year by Carl Sagan’s widow and business partner Ann Druyan (Carl Sagan Productions) and internet executive Joe Firmage (former CEO of USWeb), for four feature-length science specials that will wrap within a year. A&E has also licensed the rights to broadcast the original Cosmos series hosted by Carl Sagan.
Science programming marks a departure from A&E’s traditional fare, but Allen Sabinson, A&E’s senior VP of programming, believes it will add a much needed element of diversity to the schedule. ‘We looked at our competition and they’ve done very well with shows from this sector. The other thing is, software manufacturers, computer manufacturers and the tech sector are a very big segment of the advertising marketplace. If you’re selling a brand of computers or a digital phone, there’s a real comfort factor with a show like Solar Sail. Also, one of the on-going efforts in programming here is to broaden our audience to younger viewers. Science and tech shows reach a younger audience, so that’s a further plus.’
Solar Sail is one of the four programs outlined in the deal. It will document a private space mission, sponsored by Cosmos Studios, that will test a solar sail spacecraft. Explains Kent Gibson, president of Cosmos Studios, ‘It’s very interesting because it’s being launched by the Russians atop an ICBM, a missile that was formerly aimed at the United States. It’s a case of pounding swords into ploughshares. These missiles have to be destroyed unless a peacetime use can be found for them. This is one effort to use them to launch modest space missions to examine new science.’
The Lost Dinosaurs of Egypt and Leviathan, which investigates whales and consciousness, are also on the slate. The fourth program has yet to be finalized, but Gibson thinks The World of Carl Sagan is a strong contender. Neither Gibson nor Sabinson would reveal budgets, although both describe A&E’s investment as larger than usual.
If the specials are successful, A&E will most likely continue programming science, an eventuality that was ensured by including renewal clauses in the agreement with Cosmos. Says Sabinson, ‘We would be thrilled to establish Cosmos as a brand on A&E, as we have established ‘Biography’ and ‘Investigative Reports’.’ Gibson agrees, but is careful to distinguish Cosmos from other A&E brands, ‘We anticipate and hope that people will know Cosmos studios is exclusively on A&E. The brand, however, remains the property of Cosmos Studios.’
In other A&E news, two new factual series will debut in the fall. Real People TV (Michael Davies, executive producer) will give video cameras to individuals as they go on a dream adventure. Contestants will be selected from an online entry system. Minute-by-Minute (Chicago-based Tower Productions) provides first-person accounts of memorable events such as the San Francisco earthquake of 1989 and the 1993 bombing of the World Trade Center.