A+E Networks Unveil Houdini, Sons of Liberty, Devious Maids at Upfront

Mel Berning targets clients who are ‘tired of paying a failure tax’

A+E Networks’ Wednesday night upfront presentation at Lincoln Center featured ad sales president Mel Berning in an aggressive mode, taking on broadcasters for “throwing over $1 billion dollars up for grabs in this year’s upfront.” Indeed, many in the cable universe have called this the year for cable to really hack off quite a bit of broadcast’s market share, and A+E is giving it a try with all three flagship networks—A&E, History and Lifetime.

Berning gave the company’s ad sponsors center stage during his opening speech, aided by video of Longmire characters driving Dodge Rams, the Geico gecko in a Vikings-themed spot, and beauty brand L’Oreal. “On Lifetime, L’Oreal has been such a consistent sponsor of Runway that around the office we call it ‘L’Oreal’s Project Runway,’” Berning said.

On the programming front, ratings steamroller History will roll out the new reality series Daredevils, as well as two scripted efforts to follow last year’s high-rated The Bible—Sons of Liberty, a historical miniseries along similar lines, and Houdini, starring Oscar-winner Adrien Brody as the doomed magician.

Nancy Dubuc also pledged to increase the size of the three smaller nets at the company—H2, Bio and Lifetime Movie Network. “Over the coming year, our goal is to grow H2, Bio and LMN into the powerful platforms that History, A&E and Lifetime have become,” she said.

Now in its fourth year under Dubuc, Lifetime continues to increase its scripted original offerings with Desperate Housewives creator Marc Cherry’s Devious Maids and The Witches of East End, starring Julia Ormond as the lead in a series about a family of witches. (Originally developed for ABC, Maids was picked up by Lifetime in June 2012 after the broadcaster passed on ordering the series.)

One odd permutation of the network strategy will be Bonnie & Clyde, developed for Lifetime but now planned for simulcast on A&E, Lifetime and History.

And of course, Dubuc (now CEO of the entire outfit) played up A&E’s hit Duck Dynasty, the finale of which outperformed even American Idol last month. New shows include Stay at Home Dads and scripted series Those Who Kill, produced by Ron Howard and Brian Grazer and starring Chloë Sevigny and James D’Arcy.

Abbe Raven

The presentation made a point of playing up the internal cooperation between Abbe Raven, chairman of the network group and CEO until just weeks ago, and Dubuc, who has taken over many of the daily duties at the organization. Raven, who introduced Dubuc, called the exec “one of the most talented executives working in media and the guiding force behind the strength of our original content.”

Interestingly, folks wondering whether A+E’s owners might eventually consider an IPO got a pretty firm answer from Raven: nope. “We’re not focused on stock prices like some of our competitors,” Raven said. “We make decisions based on the creative process—not what Wall Street analysts think we should be doing.”

The party took place in a tented venue outside Lincoln Center; the band was the Grammy-winning indie rock band fun.