A+E Networks Fuels Factual Drive

Joel Denton, the company’s managing director of international content sales and partnerships, talks about trending factual genres, the power of Pawn Stars and what’s on deck for the company in the coming months.

A+E Networks’s catalogue features, among other genres, a slate of recognizable factual titles such as reality series like Intervention and Storage Wars, crime series like The First 48 and the treasure-hunting show The Curse of Oak Island, to name a few. One title that has become a staple for the New York-based company is Pawn Stars. Joel Denton, the managing director of international content sales and partnerships at A+E Networks, explains that Pawn Stars is “a program, more than any other show, that for us broke factual internationally and proved that factual [content] could rate in prime time and on large free-to-air networks.”

***Image***Pawn Stars is a crucial show for us,” he adds. “It’s a show we often use as a leader to open the door [internationally] for factual content and it invariably works. A lot of markets don’t even have pawnshops, but they understand the joy of [learning about] the history of an object, and [the anticipation of wondering], Is it real? Is it fake? Is this item worth a fortune? Is it worth nothing at all?”

Denton explains that the desire to discover the history of objects and whether they’re valuable, which is at the core of Pawn Stars, also carries through to the treasure-hunting show The Curse of Oak Island, about two brothers on a mission to discover whether a cache is buried on an isle off the coast of Nova Scotia. The show is taking off internationally, as Denton notes, “People have always had a fascination with anything related to buried treasure.”

He adds that the draw of a show like Pawn Stars is not limited to the story behind the objects that are brought into Rick Harrison’s Las Vegas shop; it also has to do with the characters themselves. “Rick is an extraordinary character with an extraordinary brain, but in a lot of ways he feels very everyman-ish,” Denton explains. “He could be an uncle or a friend or somebody you meet at a bar. It’s that relationship between the audience and the characters” that leads viewers to return to a show.

The connection to characters extends across generations and borders. “I love the multiage reach,” Denton says. Pawn Stars is a “family show in a lot of ways. Kids can sit down and watch with their grandparents, and both generations can enjoy equally. They might be enjoying different bits of the show sometimes, but they can all enjoy it. It’s very broad.” The fact that Pawn Stars has become successful internationally is, for Denton, “a sign of a shrinking world and of people opening up to different cultures and different ways of doing things.”

Denton has also noticed a “renewed interest in and mood for crime,” likely fueled by the popularity of Netflix’s Making a Murderer and HBO’s The Jinx. Though there is an appetite for crime, this type of programming can pose a challenge for distributors, especially in Europe, where Denton says “there’s quite considerable censorship on what can and can’t be shown at a time when a child might be watching, so a lot of the crime shows go [on] much later than they would in the U.S. and similar markets.” He notes that the restrictions are being relaxed, and shows like The First 48, which Denton calls a “staple of A&E in the States,” and other titles in the crime category, are gaining traction internationally.

In addition to crime shows that have been on the radar for some time, such as The First 48, A+E Networks has launched the docuseries 60 Days In, which sees seven innocent people enter the Clark County Jail in Jeffersonville, Indiana, to expose what life is like behind bars, examining significant issues surrounding incarceration. “It’s a great piece of television, a very brave piece of television, actually, both for the sheriff who authorized them to go into a facility that has recently had a very corrupt history, and also the people who are going in there,” says Denton. “It’s pretty extraordinary.”

Denton notes that the show not only fits the bill as far as buyers’ increased appetite for crime shows, but it also addresses another trend. “There has been a bit more seriousness in terms of topics, and a show like 60 Days In is somewhat indicative of the [demand for] shows that address real issues through different lenses.”

“We’re always looking for what’s new, what’s next, taking some risks, taking some swings,” Denton says of A+E Networks’s goals. “There are a couple of areas, such as treasure-hunting and crime, where we’ll be taking some swings in the next few months. Crime in particular will be a real emphasis for us, and there will be a fair amount of new shows coming through in that area, so it will be interesting to see how they work internationally.”