Biography (TV series)

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Biography tv series logo.png
Genre Documentary
Created by David L. Wolper
Starring Mike Wallace (1961–1963)
David Janssen (1979)
Peter Graves (1987–1999)
Jack Perkins (1994–1999)
Harry Smith (1999–2003)
Country of origin United States
Original language(s) English
Running time 30/60/120 minutes
Production company(s) Actuality Productions
Atlas Media Corp.
Foxstar Productions
Prometheus Entertainment
Robert Small Entertainment
Greystone Communications
Distributor A&E Networks
Original network Syndication
The Biography Channel
Original release Original series:
Revived series:

Biography is a documentary television series with three separate original broadcast runs; in syndication, on network, CBS, and the current one on cable, A&E, The Biography Channel, and then FYI. Each episode was accompanied by a narration, using stock footage, on-camera interviews, and photographs of the people's lives, who grew up.

The original 1961-63 version was a half-hour filmed series produced for Syndication by David Wolper and hosted by Mike Wallace. The A&E Network repeated these films prior to producing new episodes beginning in 1987. The older version featured historical figures such as Helen Keller and Mark Twain, or deceased entertainers and actors such as Will Rogers and John Barrymore. A 1979 revival of Biography aired briefly on CBS covering a more recent collection of celebrities ranging from Idi Amin to Walt Disney, which was then narrated by David Janssen. The A&E series placed the emphasis on show business personalities and popular newsmakers, such as Marilyn Monroe, Carmen Miranda, Elvis Presley, Plácido Domingo, Freddie Mercury, Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis, Eric Clapton, Pope John Paul II, Gene Tierney, Selena, Diego Rivera, Mao Zedong, Joe Louis, Muhammad Ali, Errol Flynn, and Queen Elizabeth II, and fictional characters like The Phantom, Superman, Hamlet, Betty Boop, and Santa Claus. With this large back catalog of profiled figures, A&E, in 1999, spun off a separate network, The Biography Channel.

Initially, most of the episodes featured the life stories of historical figures (similar to the original version) or present political or social leaders. People such as William Shakespeare, Charles Dickens, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, Enrico Caruso, and Eva Perón 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]

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.


First run[edit]

1979 revival[edit]


In fall 1987, A&E began showing the 1960s series, Biography once-a-week in prime-time, which led the network to purchase the Biography trademark and library and order the commissioning of new Biography episodes beginning in 1990. In 1991, the company launched the A&E Monthly general entertainment magazine, which had a program guide.[2]

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; "Biography This Week" would last until 1999.[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] Following Bio's rebrand as FYI, Biography continued to air in the morning hours as it did on Biography in its final years.


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.[citation needed]

On episode 811, "Parts: The Clonus Horror" of the movie-mocking cult comedy show Mystery Science Theater 3000, Biography is mentioned by the comedian commentator silhouettes throughout the entire episode as Peter Graves is one of the stars of the film.[5]


A&E expanded the "Biography" brand into a franchise with a website in July 1996, a children's version launched in fall 1996. Formerly only direct sales, A&E Home Video initiated a six-month trial in which Barnes & Noble would sell the "Biography" line in stores and becoming permanent in 1996. In 1997, the franchise was further expanded with an audio tape line, telefilm development, a Crown Publishing Group published short biography line and debuted its magazine which replace A&E Monthly. With the 1998–99 season, "Biography: American Justice" and "Biography Movies" debut.[2]

A&E spun out its first two digital cable channels in November 1998 with The Biography Channel from A&E. A&E was spending $10 million per year to convert to the digital format and for digital distribution.[2] The Bio Channel was replaced by the FYI channel on July 7, 2014, as it had been underperforming. however, The Bio brand will continue in all market in line with the markets' preferences.[6]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Gildemeister, Christopher (2006-10-16). "What Your Kids are Discovering on Discovery Channel". Parents Television Council. Archived from the original on 2007-09-30. Retrieved 2007-07-30. 
  2. ^ a b c d 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. ^ Mystery Science Theater 3000 - Season 8 - Episode 11 "Parts: The Clonus Horror"
  6. ^ Goldberg, Lesley (December 11, 2013). "A+E Rebrands Bio as Lifestyle Network FYI". The Hollywood Reporter. Retrieved June 7, 2014. 

External links[edit]