Biography (TV series)

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Roy Rogers Biography.jpg
Format Documentary
Created by CBS News
Starring Mike Wallace (1961-1964)
David Janssen (1979)
Peter Graves (1987-1999)
Jack Perkins (1994-1999)
Harry Smith (1999-2003)
Country of origin United States
Running time 60–120 minutes
Original channel CBS
The Biography Channel
Original run 1961/1990 – 1964/present

Biography is a documentary television series. It was originally a half-hour filmed series produced for CBS by David Wolper from 1961 to 1964 and hosted by Mike Wallace. The A&E Network later re-ran it and has produced new episodes since 1987. The older version featured historical figures such as Helen Keller and Mark Twain, or long-dead entertainment figures such as Will Rogers or John Barrymore. The A&E series has placed the emphasis on such people as Marilyn Monroe, Elvis Presley, Plácido Domingo, Freddie Mercury, Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis, Eric Clapton, Pope John Paul II, Gene Tierney, Selena, Diego Rivera, Mao Zedong and Queen Elizabeth II, and fictional characters like The Phantom, Superman, Hamlet, Betty Boop, and Santa Claus. A 1979 revival of Biography briefly aired on CBS covering a new set of celebrities ranging from Idi Amin to Walt Disney, which was then narrated by David Janssen. The program ended up profiling enough figures that in 1999, A&E spun it off into an entire network, The Biography Channel.

Initially, most of the episodes featured the life stories of historical figures (like the older version) or present political or social leaders. People such as William Shakespeare, Charles Dickens, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, Enrico Caruso, and Eva Peron were profiled. After a few years, however, the show began producing episodes on figures from pop culture, including Britney Spears, Al Pacino, Johnny Depp and Marilyn Manson. This move away from purely intellectual subject matter has been criticized by some.[1]

'Biography' became a 5 night a week series in 1994. A sixth night was added for the 1995-96 season called "Biography This Week" which was a profile of a newsmaker during the last week either by updating an existing episode or a rushed to production episode.[2]

At one point, the show aired up to six times weekly in prime time, but cut back to only once a week, usually on Friday nights. A&E canceled Biography after August 2006, making new episodes of the show exclusively available on The Biography Channel.[3] A&E continued airing the series Saturday and Sunday mornings for a while after the cancellation, but later dropped the series entirely.[4]

Figures covered from the business and technology world include Sam Walton, Sergey Brin and Larry Page, J.C. Penney, Dave Thomas, Colonel Sanders, Bernie Marcus and Arthur Blank.


The 1987 version of Biography has been hosted by Peter Graves, Jack Perkins, Bill Mumy and Harry Smith. Since Smith's departure in 2003, the show has been done in voice-over by Neil Ross. Joan Lunden was a regular guest host.

In popular culture[edit]

A format similar to Biography has been used by other networks for more focused genres, such as VH1's Behind The Music and E!'s True Hollywood Story.

The Canadian television comedy series Liocracy was a parody of Biography. That program was originally titled Liography until the producers of Biography threatened an intellectual property infringement lawsuit.[5]


A&E expanded the "Biography" brand into a franchise with a website in July 1996, a children's version launched in fall 1996. In 1997, the franchise was further expanded with an audio tape line, telefilm development, a Crown published short biography line and debuted its magazine which replace A&E Monthly. With the 1998-1999 season, "Biography: American Justice" and "Biography Movies" debut.[2]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Gildemeister, Christopher (2006-10-16). "What Your Kids are Discovering on Discovery Channel". Parents Television Council. Retrieved 2007-07-30. 
  2. ^ a b A & E Television Networks History. International Directory of Company Histories, Vol. 32. St. James Press, 2000. Hosted on Funding Retrieved on December 4, 2013.
  3. ^ Dempsey, John. "'Biography' rewrite" - Variety - June 4, 2006
  4. ^ Schedule search for "Biography" airings - A&E
  5. ^ "Liography". IMDB. Retrieved 29 May 2012. 

External links[edit]