On Thursday A&E Channel will join the Foxtel platform, the very first time the channel will screen outside North and South America.
Subscribers can watch unscripted titles such as Storage Wars, Dog The Bounty Hunter, Billy The Exterminator, Pawn Stars and American Pickers.
While several of these have aired in Australia on 7mate, A&E will be home to first-run episodes.
Sean Cohen, Senior Vice President, A&E Networks International tells TV Tonight the predominantly Factual titles have tried to avoid the Reality tag that is so often associated with the genre in the US.
“We call it ‘Real Life’ rather than Reality to avoid some of the tarnish that is on the tag. It’s character-based series where our goal is to let the viewer interact and engage with authentic experiences,” he says.
“Authenticity is a really important aspect. So much of Factual entertainment can appear contrived.
“We expect that some shows will be male-skewed and some will skew younger but I think there are a number of shows where there is a lot of co-viewing.”
A&E boasts four of the top ten non-fiction cable shows in the US. Audiences will also see titles that are enjoying their Australian debut.
“I.R.T. Deadliest Roads is a spin-off of Ice Road Truckers,” says Cohen.
“Storage Wars hasn’t been seen which is very exciting because it’s the number one show on A&E in the US.”
The format sees storage locker contents sold by an auctioneer as a single lot of items, with the buyers only seeing the items for 5 minutes.
“It’s a fairly simple formula but has really resonated in the US and elsewhere,” he says.
“The Producer Thom Beers is a maestro and he’s the producer of Deadliest Catch and Ice Road Truckers. But the show has some classical elements for TV, especially right now when people are hurting from the economy. You’ve got an entrepreneurial spirit, fortune-hunting, a sense that this is something the viewers could do, negotiating an auction.
“And at the core it has something we have across all our shows: it’s got great characters. Characters that viewers can sometimes relate with, or don’t particularly like. They’re characters that entertain people.”
There’s already a spin-off show called Storage Wars: Texas.
So with all these productions emerging from America’s southern states, does the channel mine its entertainment from blue-collar characters?
“You start to look at all the content across our brands and you think ‘How many shows in Louisiana? How many in Texas? How many in Florida?’ I guess we’re lucky there’s a whole lot of good characters down there,” Cohen agrees.
“Pawn Stars is a Las Vegas franchise and now we have Cajun Pawn Stars in Louisiana.
“But I wouldn’t characterise the channel as blue-collar. I’d characterise it as a range of characters. For example American Pickers is not necessarily Southern or Northern it’s just people all around the country looking at what’s in their attics, barns, backyards, basements.
“Shipping Wars is about the transport of extraordinary objects across the US and that’s not necessarily one socio-economic demographic.”
Cohen is one of three senior management from A&E Networks in Australia for the launch he views as one of the company’s most important events in 2012. He believes viewers will connect with the shows in the same way as US viewers.
“I think there is an appreciation for real life, authentic, men and women taking on occupation risks and seeking fortunes. I think they’re universal themes,” he says.
A&E will also screen a one hour pilot of a local production, Mega Truckers, from producers Cordell Jigsaw.
“I believe they’re going forward with a 13 part half hour series later this year,” he says.
“What they’ve found is a very large character with some very large trucks and a unique context with a small business that’s doing well, and shipping extraordinary objects over different routes.”
Heavy Haulage Australia boss John Kelly features as A&E’s first local character.
“I’d like to say he’s tough but fair but sometimes he’s a little bit detail-oriented. Some people call it micro-managing. He’s a real stickler for these giant trucks being spick and span clean.
“So there’s great egos, but they’re obviously great at what they do and very passionate at what they do.
“So it’s a show that people can relate to because it’s ordinary people doing extraordinary things, as opposed to the celebrity (genre) where it’s extraordinary people doing ordinary things.”
A&E airs on Channels 607 (HD) and 230 from 6:30pm Thursday February 16.