Unscripted ‘success after success’ prompts A&E strategy shift

With very few hours dedicated to scripted content to begin with, A&E Network in the U.S. has marked its exit from the scripted genre and is instead leaning into what ...
April 27, 2017

With very few hours dedicated to scripted content to begin with, A&E Network in the U.S. has marked its exit from the scripted genre and is instead leaning into what it does best: unscripted.

“We’ve had success after success with our non-fiction slate, and so we just decided to really double down there and really spend our creative and financial resources building that down,” Elaine Frontain Bryant (pictured), EVP and head of programming at A&E Network, tells realscreen.

“There’s momentum on what we have launched and what this year has meant for us. Winning the Emmy for Born This Way, and shows like 60 Days In (pictured); Leah Remini: Scientology in the Aftermath; and pedigreed and heralded feature docs Cartel Land and Life, Animated. All of those [titles] kind of play into that decision,” she says.

The flagship channel of A+E Networks’ departure from scripted follows the series’ finale of A&E’s dramatic smash Bates Motel, which ended its five-season run on April 24 with a ratings share of 0.5 among the 18-49 demographic and 1.41 million viewers.

Bates Motel was coming to an organic and a very exciting end – that was our key franchise. We hadn’t found anything to follow it,” she adds. “It was a pretty easy decision.”

A&E in the U.S. most recently resurrected the Emmy-winning ‘Biography’ franchise across A&E, History and Lifetime, which will launch Creature Films and eOne’s The Notorious Life of Biggie Smalls on June 29.

Initial linear projects under the ‘Biography’ strand include Renegade 83 and FGW Productions’ Who Killed Tupac?; Kaufman Films’ tentatively titled Gotti & Son; Raw TV’s David Koresh And The Siege Of Waco (working title); and Elizabeth Smart: Autobiography (w/t) and Mike Tyson: Autobiography (w/t), both from Asylum Entertainment and Marwar Junction Productions.

The network’s successful non-scripted stable further includes the Emmy-winning InterventionThe First 48, Nightwatch and the live policing series Live PD, which has had a 57% growth since launching in October. The hit reality series Duck Dynasty, meanwhile, ended in November following an 11-season run.

A&E’s footprint in premium dramatized television was relatively short lived by most standards, having aggressively launched in 2008 with the roll out of original miniseries The Andromeda Strain and The Cleaner and The Beast, both of which each ran for two seasonsThe move marked A&E’s shift from an arts-focused network to a more contemporary one, opening the floodgates to additional scripted dramas from Jerry Bruckheimer, Shawn Ryan, Lynda Obst and Kevin Costner.

The cable channel has also been responsible for such scripted fare as The Glades (three seasons) and Longmire, which aired on A&E for three seasons before being acquired by Netflix, which has since renewed the show for a sixth season of 10 episodes.

The channel has also produced the police procedural crime drama Unforgettable, which first aired on CBS in 2011 and was canceled twice before being picked up by A&E for a fourth season. It premiered in November 2015 and subsequently cancelled in February 2016.

The flagship cable channel has not greenlit a scripted series since 2015 and is not expected to be developing any additional scripted programming moving forward.

A+E Networks will continue to support scripted series on both History and Lifetime, with Gabriel Marano having transitioned to A&E Studios from his role at A&E Network as SVP of scripted programming.

“History, Lifetime and internationally are doing a lot of scripted, and so some of these [undeveloped A&E] projects just very organically moved over to our sister and brother networks,” Frontain Bryant notes.

About The Author
Andrew Jeffrey joined Realscreen in 2021 as its news editor. Here, he helps to oversee assignment, reporting and editing for Realscreen's daily newsletter. Prior to his work covering documentary and non-fiction film and TV, he worked as a reporter and associate producer for CBC Edmonton, and as a reporter for The Star Calgary, where he covered daily news on beats such as local and provincial politics, health care and harm reduction, sports and education. His work has appeared in other Canadian news outlets such as TVO, the Edmonton Journal and Avenue Magazine.