Sunday, July 14, 2002
A&E's "Biography" has been a model for everything from VH1's "Behind the Music" to E!'s "True Hollywood Story." Even the excellent personality profiles on Bravo owe something to "Biography," which first showed up back in the late '80s. And Monday night, the network logs its 1,000th "Biography" story, a look at the life of the late rock promoter Bill Graham.
If the show holds true to form, we will come away knowing something more about Graham than we did before.
"The goal is to give something new each time," says Carolanne Dolan, vice president of documentary series at A&E and the woman who oversees the production of "Biography." "You get to see how a person was formed, who affected them, what made them into who they became."
It is an atmosphere in which Dolan has flourished since she studied political science at SUNY College at Purchase (N.Y.). She graduated with "a very broad liberal arts education," she says.
Her first job out of college seemed to satisfy both of her childhood ambitions, to be a writer and/or an archeologist.
"I started as a temp at National Geographic, and they ended up taking me on full time. That's where I trained in TV," she says. That's also where she learned to favor fact over fiction.
"I think that real stories are the best stories, better and more compelling than fiction. You get to relate to it so well. You can see it, and it has more meaning personally."
Part of her fingerprint is on every "Biography." She decides which ones will be done, when they'll air.
"Because we do so many hours a year," Dolan says, "our in-house production unit couldn't handle them all, so we have about a half-dozen production companies who make many of the biographies for us. We've worked with them for years and years, and they have helped build 'Biography' with us."
Dolan and her staff steer the direction, and with every show, they ï¿½ she ï¿½ look at every stage of development.
The Biography Channel, an A&E spin-off devoted wholly to biographies, launched on Dolan's watch as has every one of "Biography's" many brand extensions. For the uninitiated, that means growth opportunities including a magazine, a game, books for kids and adults and a line of video titles among others.
"It's such a wonderful concept," Dolan says. "You can do a lot of things with it ï¿½ put any topic or issue through the 'Biography' prism and see what comes out."