A&E is developing nearly a dozen projects with British production companies including a moving documentary format where terminally ill people deliver a message to their families from beyond the grave. The U.S.-based broadcaster is in the early stages of developing the project, which has the working title Voices From the Grave, from Naked Television, the production company run by former Fox reality chief Simon Andreae.
The development was revealed by Sean Gottlieb, VP Development and Programming at A+E Networks, as part of a webinar organized by British trade body Pact.
The format, which was being sold by A+E Networks International at October’s Mipcom, follows terminally ill people and creates holograms of them before they die so that they can give their families a message when they pass. It offers people facing their final weeks and days the chance to show that death is not the end of their story.
Gottlieb said that the broadcaster was working up the format “sensitively with a loud hook.”
“Once we talked to bereavement specialists and psychologists, everyone was on board with it,” he said. “It’s a great thing for a lot of these families. The process was incredibly moving. Shooting with these people to help them craft their message, when you think about your final moments on your deathbeds, you’re not always in the state that you want to be remembered so this is a way for people, months before that, when they still have their facilities about them and look the way they want to be remembered.”
He added it was one of “10 or 11” projects in development with British producers. “We work with a lot of British production companies — our sensibilities align, formats are the easiest things that travel. Most of my high-concept ideas right now come from the UK,” he added.
The broadcaster is also working on a show that looks at whether people can fall in love with robots. He said that it was working with AI technology on the idea.
All of these projects are part of A&E’s network strategy to find “ambitious” titles based in the “zeitgeist” and wouldn’t be out of place in “cocktail party conversations.”
“Unlike some of the lifestyle networks, we’re not trying to do slight fractional turns on things that worked in the past, we’re reinventing the wheel over and over again,” Gottlieb said. “We want to do shows that other networks are afraid to do.”
Gottlieb also revealed a number of genres and areas that it is looking at for new ideas as it looks to replicate the success of shows such as Live PD, Leah Remini: Scientology and the Aftermath and 60 Days In. He said that it is looking to medical projects, Storage Wars-style found money shows and the paranormal. On the latter, he said that it was looking at shows that tap into ghost hunting and mediums, but not UFOs. “No one has done anything new in this genre for a while,” he said.
He added that A&E was looking for its own competition title, in the way that Outpost Entertainment’s Forged in Fire has succeeded for History. “There’s got to be a competition format that works for us, we just haven’t figured out what that skill is yet, but we’re totally open to hearing things,” he said.
Gottlieb also revealed that the Biography brand is “coming back in a big way” in 2019. He said that it was looking to air three or four stories around the same subject. This comes after the Emmy-winning franchise was brought back via series based on rappers Tupac Shakur and Notorious B.I.G. When the revival was initially announced in 2017, the company said it was working on shows about Vladimir Putin, Mike Tyson, Elizabeth Smart and David Koresh.