In June, A&E canceled its flagship series Live PD in the wake of the killing of George Floyd and the subsequent protests against police brutality.
The cancelation came a month after the network renewed the show for an additional 160 episodes. Live PD, which aired Friday and Saturday nights from 9 PM-12 AM, was one of the highest-rated shows on basic cable.
One of the challenges now for A&E and parent company A+E Networks is how to replace a show that aired for so many hours across the schedule.
A+E Networks President of Programming Rob Sharenow lifted the lid on the decision making process in a virtual Edinburgh International TV Festival session moderated by Deadline.
“That was certainly a challenging moment for the brand, for our country, for the network but A&E is a brand that really listens to culture and has always prided itself on being part of the cultural conversation and being on the frontlines of things,” he said. “Right now, we do have a lot of plans that we’re very excited about that have been set in motion.”
Live Rescue, the Live PD emergency first responders spin-off, began airing its third season on August 21, taking up the Friday and Saturday night slots.
But Sharenow admitted that the Live PD cancelation will also provide opportunities for producers as it looks for shows to fill these hours. He highlighted the long-running success of shows like Intervention and The First 48.
“It’s important to note that A&E was not a one show channel, A&E has a really well-defined brand that leans into what we call the front row experience, the real reality I used to call it, real people in the real world doing real things,” he said.
A&E will likely commission several new shows to fill these hours rather than have one show across six hours a weekend. “We are looking at several different new shows. It’s hard to make a massive commitment to anything these days, because it’s hard to launch new things so you want to be somewhat cautious and hedging but I do think that opens up opportunities. I’m still a true believer that if the content is there, the audience follows. If a show can catch fire, it will. Having these series swings, they’ll get their shot. It’s just an extreme challenge to breakout, to feel unique and feel like something the audience hasn’t seen before,” he said.
Elsewhere, Sharenow revealed that it was exploring the next iteration of the Surviving franchise. Surviving Jeffrey Epstein (left) just aired on the network and was a follow-up to Surviving R Kelly – both doc series telling the stories from the perspective of the women involved.
He said that there were a “couple of things” in development for the next Surviving but that it would not be ordering numerous Surviving series.
“Clearly the Jeffrey Epstein story was an important story to tell. We’ve always been on the frontlines of speaking up for battered woman, abused woman, trafficking, those are issues that are critically important for Lifetime. This [series] gave voice to and empowered the women and there is a unique lens to how we’re going to do things. We move when the opportunity presents itself as opposed to having 15 Survivings lined up on a runway. That feels wrong. We’re not looking to keep that train going for its own sake but when there’s a story that feels critically important, we’ll do it,” he added.
Following the recent supersized order for Lifetime’s Married At First Sight, Sharenow said that it was now looking for more close-ended formats. He said that was the network’s development focus and highlighted a show like Wife Swap.
“We need to cut through and be a little provocative and saucy. Our women want to be taken on a ride and part of it is an escape, there is a voyeuristic thrill that is quite provocative but not for its own sake,” he said.
The company recently held an online PitchFest for producers during quarantine and Sharenow revealed that he and his team took 150 pitches across 85 meetings and has put five shows into “true” development. “Unfortunately, given where I think the health situation in the U.S., we’re probably going to have to do it again,” he added.