Entertainment Industry

Category: History

History channel launches TV screen commerce initiative


For years, media executives and marketers have longed for the day when a viewer could be watching an episode of "The Good Wife," say, click a dress worn by star Julianna Margulies and instantly be able to purchase it right from the television screen.

On Monday, that scenario inched a little closer to reality. The cable network History, programming distributor Verizon FiOS and technology company Delivery Agent, which manages online stores for many television networks, unveiled a T-commerce (television commerce) initiative that would enable subscribers to buy items shown the cable network's programs.

Taking part in the T-commerce effort are History shows like "Pawn Stars" and "Ice Road Truckers." During a show, an icon will appear on the screen that the viewer can click on to purchase items.

"The reason the History Shop initiative will work is because it allows viewers to see and buy things at the moment they're most interested, while still being able to watch their show," said Mark Garner, a senior vice president at History parent A&E Television Networks.

For now, service is only available for Verizon FiOS customers, but the plan is to roll it out to other distributors and extend the service to other A&E networks including Lifetime — which seems a natural, given its hit fashion show "Project Runway."

— Joe Flint

Photo Credit: Delivery Agent


Miniseries on Kennedys overcame long odds to score big in Emmy nominations


After being discarded like yesterday's trash by the History Channel and avoided like the plague by other networks, the controversial miniseries "The Kennedys" got some vindication Thursday in the form of 10 Emmy nominations.

"The Kennedys," which ended up running on the tiny Reelz Channel, was nominated for best miniseries. Actors Greg Kinnear, Barry Pepper and Tom Wilkinson were also nominated for their portrayals of John, Bobby and Joe Kennedy Sr., respectively.

Reelz, which premiered “The Kennedys” in April, said it would rerun the miniseries in November.

“I was surprised,” said Joel Surnow, executive producer of the eight-hour program. “I frankly didn’t think we’d be recognized for lots of reasons, none of them having to do with the quality of the show.”

A big-budget extravaganza tracing the rise of one of America’s most powerful families, “The Kennedys” was met with heavy resistance before it had even started shooting. Early scripts were criticized by former colleagues of President John F. Kennedy as well as self-appointed guardians of his legacy, and stories citing concerns over the historical accuracy of the program and motivations of the producers started to appear on a regular basis.

In January, as pressure grew on the History Channel, which spent millions on the program, from allies of the Kennedys over whether the miniseries would be fair and accurate, the network jumped ship, saying, “This dramatic interpretation is not a fit for the History brand.”

Surnow, a creator of the Fox hit “24,” was particularly singled out as being unfit to produce “The Kennedys” because he is politically conservative.

“It doesn’t feel good to hire a group of people and put them through the enormous effort of production and go through all we had to go through and have to tell people that, because I’m friends with Roger Ailes and Rush Limbaugh, all their work is not going to be seen,” Surnow said.

After being dropped by History, the producers had to scramble and initially could find no takers. The pay-TV channel Showtime, which several years earlier bought a movie about Ronald and Nancy Reagan that CBS had dropped after backlash from their supporters, took a pass as did several other networks. Ultimately, Reelz, a cable network that primarily carries movies, struck a deal to acquire the rights to the $30-million project.

“None of the big networks that should have had ‘The Kennedys’ would go near it. Being an independent network gave us the freedom to do it,” Reelz Chief Executive Stan E. Hubbard said.

The fears about being associated with “The Kennedys” didn’t end when it finally ran. Hubbard said Reelz had to promote the miniseries to Emmy voters itself after being unable to land a big Hollywood public relations firm to coordinate the campaign.

“They wouldn’t touch this thing,” Hubbard said.

-- Joe Flint


History Channel pulls plug on Kennedy miniseries

Kennedy miniseries sets ratings record for Reelz

Photo: Greg Kinnear as President John F. Kennedy. Credit: Zak Cassar / Kennedys Productions

Lifetime and VH1 look for boost by borrowing from siblings


You'd be forgiven if you thought you were watching MTV or Spike and it turned out you were watching VH1 or if your TV said Lifetime but you could have sworn it was History Channel.

Both Lifetime, which is owned by Walt Disney Co., NBC Universal and Hearst Corp., and Viacom's VH1 have been borrowing shows from their sibling channels in an effort to juice their sagging ratings before the end of the year.

At Lifetime, repeats of History Channel's reality hit "Pawn Stars" have been popping up. Given that Lifetime's new chief -- Nancy Dubuc -- kept her job as head of History Channel as well, this move is hardly a surprise. "Pawn Stars" would not seem to be an ideal fit with Lifetime, but Dubuc wants to broaden the network's audience a little, and the hope is that viewers who might not normally check out Lifetime will stumble onto "Pawn Stars" and stick around. However, the risk is that Lifetime's core female audience will be alienated. Given the channel's ratings slump, however, that may be of little concern to the new team there.

VH1, meanwhile, has raided Spike and MTV's closet for reruns of "Entourage" and "Jersey Shore," respectively. Like Lifetime, VH1 has been in a prolonged ratings slump, and the hope is that borrowing those shows for a couple of weeks will get it some new viewers. A VH1 spokesman said it was a way to "test out show formats and formulas with our viewers and help drive promotion for the series back to our sister channel."

On the one hand, it is hard to argue with Lifetime and VH1 using programing from their siblings in an effort to jump-start themselves.

But the moves also continue the disturbing trend of cable channels being indistinguishable from one another. Shuttling shows from one network to another is different from when a cable network such as Spike shells out millions of dollars for reruns of a show such as HBO's "Entourage" or TBS does the same for "Big Bang Theory."

What Lifetime and VH1 are doing may have the cable operators who pay to carry them wondering why they are shelling out so much to be served leftovers.

-- Joe Flint

Photo: "Entourage." Credit: Claudette Barius/ HBO

History Channel has year to remember


There's an old saying that those who do not study history are doomed to repeat it.

Fortunately for the History Channel, that's a good thing. The cable network saw its prime-time audience grow by 35% this year, according to Nielsen. History Channel, which is co-owned by Walt Disney Co., NBC Universal and Hearst Corp., averaged 1.6 million viewers in prime time. Its audience among adults 18-49 was up by 34%, to 754,000. Both were the biggest gains of any top 10 cable network.

Of course, purists will rightly tell you that the History Channel long stopped being just about history. At one time the network was best known for its seemingly endless marathons of World War II documentaries. Now, though, it has redefined itself somewhat and has a heavy dose of reality shows such as "Ax Men," which is about loggers, and "Pawn Stars," about, well some funny guys at a pawn shop.

But the network has not completely abandoned its roots. Wednesday night's lineup includes a special on the fall of the Third Reich. That would make Tony Soprano happy. Earlier this year, it ran a series titled "America: The Story of Us," which generated strong ratings, although reviews were mixed.

The No. 1 cable network in prime time remains NBC Universal's USA Network. The channel, best known for its quirky dramas including "Burn Notice," "Royal Pains" and "White Collar," averaged 3.1 million viewers in prime time, just a 4% drop from 2009.

USA still has a healthy lead over the Disney Channel, which saw its audience grow by 1% to about 2.6 million viewers. ESPN was at No. 3 with 2.3 million viewers, an increase of 4% from last year. TNT was ranked fourth and flat in viewers while Fox News was fifth and down 7%.

Every year, Turner Broadcasting Chief Research Officer Jack Wakshlag analyzes Nielsen information to provide an overview of the television landscape. An interesting note is that the number of people with no Internet or cable TV in the country is down to just 5%, from 6.2% less than two years ago.

The big four broadcast networks (ABC, NBC, CBS, Fox), which have lost a lot of viewers to cable over the last two decades, actually are likely to finish the year with a 32.2 share of prime-time viewing, which is up 1% from a year ago and halts a three-year skid. Advertiser-supported cable had a 60.9 share, flat from 2009.

-- Joe Flint

Photo: History Channel's "Pawn Stars." Credit: History Channel.

Bank of America is ready for its Hollywood close-up

After taking heat for its role in the financial crisis, Bank of America has been looking for ways to show its influence on the U.S. economy in a more positive light. An unconventional deal that it struck with the History channel could be just the opportunity.

The bank signed on as presenting sponsor of the cable network's ambitious 12-part series "America: The Story of Us," which traces the country's history through the stories of such milestones as the Revolutionary War, the Civil War, the California gold rush and the Great Depression.

In recent years, television programmers have become increasingly reliant on advertisers to underwrite event-style programs. Still, Bank of America's partnership with History is unusual. Instead of buying traditional 30-second ad spots, the bank produced a dozen two-minute commercials that bring to life episodes of its own history.

"The pieces are different. They are not about a particular [banking] product," said Meredith Verdone, Bank of America's senior vice president for brand advertising. "We will tell the parallel story of how we contributed to the building of the infrastructure of America."

Bank of America plans to spotlight its role in the development of Hollywood during its commercial message that runs May 17. The bank describes how it came to rescue after filmmaker Cecile B. DeMille went "wildly over budget" during the shooting of "The Ten Commandments." Trying to re-create ancient Egypt in California's sand dunes in 1923 proved expensive.  More than 1,000 workers were enlisted to build sets and 2,000 actors were brought in to be extras. DeMille's initial financial backers pulled out, leaving the project in doubt, the bank's commercial says.


"Once Bank of America backs DeMille's artistic vision and offers him half a million dollars, the filming continues uninterrupted," the bank's spot says. "The Ten Commandments" went on to make more than $4.5 million at the box office. Not only did Bank of America finance DeMille, it also backed Charlie Chaplin, Douglas Fairbanks and a little Depression-era movie called "Gone With the Wind."

-- Meg James

Read the full story of Bank of America's influence on History here. 

Photo credit: Bank of America


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