Paul Buccieri, the president of A+E Studios and A+E Networks Portfolio Group, tells World Screen about the latest developments at A+E Studios.
Having a foothold in the premium scripted space has been a major priority for A+E Networks over the last few years. And for a channel operator that has long made content ownership a key remit, the launch of A+E Studios was a logical move. Overseen today by Paul Buccieri as president, the division has been aligning with high-end talent to roll out scripted fare such as Knightfall, SIX and more.
WS: What has been the overall approach to scripted at A+E Studios?
BUCCIERI: It’s truly about working with the best talent. More than a strategy, it’s a philosophy. You want to have ease of transaction; you want to have a place where the creatives feel empowered and supported. That’s starting to shine through here. We have projects with Jenji Kohan—right before she went into her Netflix deal—Greg Berlanti, Robert Zemeckis, Jon Favreau. These are top-tier talents. If they have a good experience, that then translates throughout the community, and we are able to attract more talent. That’s our approach. Having been on the producing side, I know how much I wanted a studio, a support system, to back me. We’re trying to do that for producers who are coming to us.
WS: How important is it to have big-name talent attached to make an impact in this crowded market?
BUCCIERI: It’s the idea first for me. I still believe that the storytelling is critical, and giving these great writers and producers the freedom to tell the stories they want to tell. I still think you can break talent in these shows. If the right opportunity arises to cast a big name or someone who is just perfect for the part, I’m going to lean toward somebody who is perfect for the part. That’s not to say we’re shying away from top-name talent. We’re working with Aidan Gillen from Game of Thrones and The Wire. For Project Blue Book, he was the perfect person to play J. Allen Hynek, our lead character. When he expressed his interest, for me there was nobody else who should be playing this role. That’s because I knew his body of work. He also happened to have a huge following and a great name. It worked out wonderfully.
WS: What else is coming up that you’re excited about?
BUCCIERI: We have YOU coming out from Greg Berlanti and Sera Gamble. We have Jenji Kohan’s latest project, American Princess. We have SIX coming back for a second season. HISTORY was the first to break this area [military drama] in scripted. After our show came out, CBS did one, NBC did one, and The CW did one. We were there first. It was the number two most-watched cable drama in 2017 on television, as a new show. SIX and Knightfall are both top ten new shows on cable, and people still aren’t fully appreciating that this is the type of audience and content we can deliver. We still have our work to do. And then UnREAL [came] back to glowing reviews. We tapped into some storylines several months ago, before the #MeToo movement, so now it will seem like we wrote to it.
We have more to come. Our first priority is to super-serve our brands, HISTORY and Lifetime. But we have taken a very methodical approach and over the last 14 months have sold quite a big number of shows with top-tier talent outside of our networks.
WS: So rather than pitching you for a specific network, talent is coming to you and saying, I have a story I want to tell.
BUCCIERI: It’s both. And it’s exactly where we want to be. There are so many opportunities out there. With our ambition to grow, we want to get even more scale than our platforms allow us to have. We’ve been quietly amassing a nice portfolio.
We source projects too. We’ll say we want to go into a specific genre or area. We’ll say we want to go after certain book rights. And then we attach a writer. Or we go after a story or article we found about an interesting, unique world, and then we’ll source talent and writers to see if it fits with their passion.
WS: Are you looking at co-pro opportunities with platforms in the U.K. or elsewhere?
BUCCIERI: Absolutely. Coming from being the head of international for ITV, I know that world quite well. I think there are wonderful, talented storytellers from all over the world and I want to be in business with them. If you look at what we’ve done with Knightfall, that whole show is scripted out of the U.K., with U.K. talent. But to be clear, while the U.K. is a wonderful territory to mine great writers, great directors, great talent, there are so many other places that are exciting to work with. The Netherlands, Germany, France. We’re trying to mine great stories from all over the world.
WS: We keep hearing that there’s a significant premium on talent these days as there is so much being produced. How are you dealing with that, and how are you looking for new voices?
BUCCIERI: One of the ways we’re looking at it is, as we start building our scale and have more and more shows under our banner, A+E Studios has become a wonderful training ground to nurture and foster talent among our writers on staff. The EPs like to shepherd other writers’ careers, and that gives us a big, big opportunity.
WS: Is there anything else you’d like to tell us about what’s happening at A+E Studios?
BUCCIERI: From the inception of A+E Studios in late 2013 until where we are now, the gains the team has made from a business aspect, both domestically and internationally, are extraordinary. We have six series for our air in various stages of production, and numerous shows in different stages of development. We have projects with broadcasters as well as Hulu and Netflix, to name a few. The thing that I always look to, going back to my roots as a seller versus as a buyer, is we are only limited by the ideas that we come up with. In today’s marketplace, the opportunity is immense, pipelines need to be fueled with excellent content, and we intend to accommodate.