Long before Behind the Music aired its first pre-rehab car wreck and E! True Hollywood Story showcased Corey Haim’s meltdown, there was A&E’s Biography. Earnest and meticulous — with a penchant for baby-pic montages set to music — the granddaddy of all profile programs has chronicled everyone from Adam and Eve to (gulp) David Spade since debuting in April 1987. ”We don’t deal in speculation and rumor,” says exec producer CarolAnne Dolan. ”We’re careful about telling the whole story.” Now that Biography has reached its 15th anniversary, we thought it was time to dig up some dirt on the series’ past. — Clarissa Cruz
— Okay, Biography is nearing the 1,000th-profile mark. Isn’t the well nearly dry?
While they have come close to bottom-of-the-barrel scraping (Vanna White and Mary Kay Letourneau, anyone?), producers aren’t fretting about new subjects. ”There are biographies happening every day,” says Dolan. But come on, Vanna White? ”That was, frankly, one of the ones I was a little reluctant [about], but I got talked into it,” Dolan admits. ”Vanna is an icon, what can you say?”
— Hosts have included veteran newsman Harry Smith and the equally distinguished Peter Graves and Jack Perkins. Then Corey Feldman gets the gig for Hollywood Fast Times week. Please explain yourselves.
”A good host is someone who has credibility, who has personality, who can connect with the viewer,” says Dolan. ”It’s actually a lot of fun to come up with the guest hosts, and I think Corey Feldman was certainly appropriate for Hollywood Fast Times.”
Oprah Winfrey drew the most viewers — 3.6 million homes tuned in for the premiere of her Bio in January 2000. Dizzy Gillespie earns the opposite honor, pulling in only 500,000 homes in May 2001. Princess Diana takes the crown for the most repeated episode (20 times since its debut in August 1992), while Bill Clinton’s Biography has the distinction of being the most updated.
Johnny Carson tops Dolan’s wish list, along with Bill Cosby and Barbra Streisand. ”There’s a handful of real biggies that we’d love to get,” says Dolan, who remains optimistic. ”We’ve approached these people over the years and they say no — and very often ‘no’ means ‘not yet.”’