Magazine article Variety

History Ready for Dramatic Moment

Magazine article Variety

History Ready for Dramatic Moment

Article excerpt

DIALOGUE: NANCY DUBUC

With shows like "Pawn Stars" and "Swamp People," History has made itself over as the most successful purveyor of unscripted programming on cable. Now, on the eve of its first airing of a scripted effort, the original miniseries "Hatfields & McCoys," starring Kevin Costner and Bill Paxton, debuting Memorial Day, and its first dramatic skein, "Vikings," set to air next year, the network is widening its scope. Nancy Dubuc, president and general manager of History and lifetime, spoke with Christy Grosz about the difficulty in balancing historical drama and fact, the differences in identifying good reality and good fiction, and History's abortive first attempt at a scripted original, "The Kennedys."

CS: Why was now the right time for scripted series?

ND: I don't think there was necessarily a date we were targeting - I wish we could schedule it the way I schedule everything else on my calendar (laughs). One of our aspirations was to be able to do original historical drama under our own banner. It really became, "What is the right title? What is the right time? What are the right economics?" We were fortunate for a lot of these things to collide at the same time, which opened the door for a new opportunity.

CG: Are there many other off-net series like (HBO's) "Band of Brothers," which you had a lot of success with, that would work for History? It seems like that must have been part of the motivation in getting into scripted.

ND: The reality is (that) our original (unscripted) programs ("Pawn Stars," "Swamp People") are higher rated than most of the off-net programs in all of cable, so the base of my original programming is a far stronger platform than off-net. We wanted to be that kind of mature powerhouse before we (launched a scripted series). There were plenty of opportunities for us to go out there and do drama in various forms over the past five to seven years, but they were based on economic models devised to be the most attractive to us as possible, and that doesn't always translate to the highest quality premium project you can get your hands on. For me, that first time we go out, we have to go out big.

CS: So this is an opportunity to create a network event, with talent like Costner and Paxton in "Hatfields & McCoys?"

ND: We've had tremendous success with bigevent programming through the years, mostly in nonfiction in terms of "America The Story of Us," "Gettysburg," "102 Minutes That Changed America." When we get behind (something) and make an event out of it, our marketing chops and our platform ability become apparent. …

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