Listen: How A+E Networks Bucked the Trend and Fell Back in Love With Lifetime Movies

Cynthia Littleton

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In an era of overflowing choice, focus is more important than ever for traditional television executives.

On the latest episode of Variety podcast Strictly Business, A+E Networks’ president of programming Rob Sharenow discusses how the cable giant pulled its flagship brands out of the ratings trenches over the past two years, thanks in large part to a renewed focus on what A&E and History do well, and a realistic assessment of what wasn’t working so well.

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“We’re in an age of unbelievable distraction. There’s a million reasons why people in my profession have reason to panic,” Sharenow says. “There are incredible shifts going on in consumption. … One of the things we’ve done very well is to try and drown out all the distraction and stay focused on the core mission of what the brands has always been — to super-serve the audience.”

Listen to this week’s podcast below:

Sharenow details the decision to move away from scripted programming on A&E in favor of its core true-crime and you-are-there documentary programming, exemplified by the success of its innovative franchise “Live PD.” Sharenow notes that the circulation provided by the influx of viewers for “Live PD” on Friday and Saturday nights has driven new viewers to the stalwart shows that have long been guiding lights for A&E, “60 Days In,” “The First 48” and “Intervention.”

History is in the midst of a number big initiatives to reinforce its bona fides as a home of in-depth programming on great moments in history, recent and not-so-recent. The documentary series “Washington” is leading the charge for a series of what Sharenow calls “elevated” deep dives into the human stories behind legendary figures such as the nation’s first president.

At Lifetime, the spade work of boosting ratings has been a slower process. But the momentum is there thanks to the decision to embrace the very thing that most casual viewers associate with the channel: made-for-TV movies. Sharenow explains how a stepped up slate of made-fors has taken the place of drama series.

“There was a moment where we sort of backed away from the strategy of doing the Lifetime movie,” Sharenow said. “Then we looked at it and said, ‘This is what our viewers love. Why not lean into it?'”

Strictly Business” is Variety’s weekly podcast featuring conversations with industry leaders about the business of entertainment. A new episode debuts each Wednesday and can be downloaded on iTunes, Spotify, Google Play, Stitcher and SoundCloud.

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