Women are a bloodthirsty bunch. But they prefer their gore delivered second hand, particularly through DStv’s Crime & Investigation channel. Adam MacDonald, the vice president of programming for the A+E Network UK, the company responsible for the Crime & Investigation  and HISTORY  channels, is visiting South Africa to witness what a series of focus groups say about these popular channels.
“I equate this trend with my wife,” he says. “She loves the Stieg Larsson books, Girl With A Dragon Tattoo and the others whereas I find them too violent. Women seem to have a fascination with the dark side, and keen forensic interest in crime.”
He says while South Africans appear to follow similar viewing patterns to audiences abroad, the purpose of the focus groups is to drill down further into what South Africans want so as to tailor programming to fit South African needs. “We want to find out if there are differences in the ways in which South Africans consume HISTORY and Crime & Investigation,” says MacDonald. “And while we do have a [crude] idea, there’s no substitute for nitty gritty.”
One thing South Africa is not short of is crime stories. But so far this hasn’t been reflected in a major way in C&I’s programming. “We’re keen to do more of that kind of programming here,” says MacDonald. “We recently did the story of Ellen Pakkies (the mother who killed her Tik-addicted son), which was an extraordinary story. We also did a programme on serial killer, Moses Sithole.”
MacDonald says the bulk of the programming for HISTORY and C&I come out of the United States and the United Kingdom. “It’s about universal storytelling,” he says. “Investment isn’t a major issue – although we’d all like more money – but it’s finding the stories that are universal.”
Of course, one of the biggest on the UK and South African radar is the Shrien Dewani murder case. Dewani is accused of ordering a hit on his wife Anni, while on honeymoon in South Africa, and is embroiled in a battle to extradite him from the UK and back to South Africa to face those charges here.
“We are exploring the story,” MacDonald confirms. “But there are legal issues we have to take into account. We’ve done a programme already, one that tells the story leading up to his possible extradition to South Africa, and are investigating showing it in South Africa. Yes, we’ve started the journey on this story.”
Another big series that’s about to kick off in South Africa next week [March 6] is The Kennedys, a dramatised show that stars Katie Holmes and Greg Kinnear as JFK and Jackie Kennedy, and Barry Pepper as Bobby Kennedy. It’s an unusual departure for the programme to be screened on what is essentially a documentary channel.
“It’s the first time we’ve done a major drama on HISTORY and it’s something we’d like to explore more of,” says MacDonald. “Certainly, it’s a new departure for us. But it’s compelling viewing and has been a huge success in the UK, where it premiered. It’s also won several Emmys so we’re proud to show it.”
It did, however, come in for some flak in the United States with director Jon Cassar saying the reason it was not being shown by HISTORY, or any other broadcaster in the US, was because friends of the Kennedy family pressured US companies to pull out of the project.
One of HISTORY’s biggest hits globally, says MacDonald, is the show Pawn Stars. “It posted the highest ratings in South Africa when the new series started last week,” he says. “It’s enormously popular and there’s now a term for this kind of contemporary history – ‘artifactual television’. The guys in Pawn Stars have become stars!”
It’s quite a big year for A+E Network. With the Olympics and the Queen’s Jubilee placing the UK firmly in the spotlight, history is being made. And the world will be watching.