A&E Gambles On Casino Reality TV

Caesar's Palace, A&E Channel logo
Coming off 10 consecutive months of ratings growth and a trio of hit series, A&E is diving headfirst into more reality, ordering up its next batch of primetime originals, one of which revolves around the comings and goings at Caesars Palace.

The channel was expected to announce Wednesday, during the cable portion of the TV critics press tour, that it has given the green light to production on "Caesars," an unscripted series that takes a behind-the-scenes look at the Vegas resort.

A&E has also ordered up second seasons of "Family Plots," the unscripted tale of a family-run mortuary, and unscripted police procedural "The First 48."

And in a bid to get seven new original series on the air by next year, the net has also picked up the reality pilot "Mondo Magic" as a series.

Under exec VP-general manager Abbe Raven, A&E has made significant strides over the past year. The channel is up 13 percent in its key adults 25-54 audience and up 20 percent in 18-49. It drew record ratings highs with the documentary "Airline" and the original movie "Ike: Countdown to D-Day," which scored the biggest audience in A&E history.

"My personal goal was to renew and rejuvenate this network, and I think we've done that. The design of the current schedule is really a reflection of the new team that came into being here about a year ago," Raven said. "(Documentaries head) Nancy Dubuc and (senior programming vice president) Bob DeBitetto have done a wonderful job of turning this channel around."

Raven said "Caesars" may as well have been titled "Hotel." The series will serve as a companion to "Airline" and chronicle the day-to-day operations of the resort-casino.

"We're going to show it warts and all," the executive said. Despite an influx of Vegas-set programming on networks that include NBC, Discovery and Fox, Raven says "Caesars" will be distinct.

"Ours is not about gaming, it's about the people. And we've got a very unique advantage in the setting. Also, we've kind of already set the standard for these kind of shows. We know how to make them."

"Caesars," from 44 Blue Productions ("What Should You Do") and Cypress Point Productions ("Nuremberg"), begins shooting in the next few weeks for a premiere late this year or early next. Dubuc, Rasha Drachkovitch, Gerald Abrams and Michael Goldstein are executive producers.

"Mondo Magic," "First 48," "Family Plots" and "Intervention" will also bow before mid-2005. A&E has ordered 26 episodes of "Plots" and 13 segments of "48."

"We're doing things that we consider true," Raven said. "Nothing is contrived. Nothing is a contest. I think what we've done and what we're continuing to do will contribute in a big way to people recognizing and understanding what the new A&E is all about."

Originals up next include real-life dramas "Growing Up Gotti" and "Dog the Bounty Hunter," as well as the off-net premiere of "CSI: Miami."