"Biography" could be history.
The long-running cornerstone show that put A&E (search) on the map 18 years ago has lost more than half its audience, had its on-air schedule cut in half and could be in danger of going out of production, reports industry trade magazine TV Week.
At one time, as many as 3 million viewers tuned in to watch the famed warts-and-all documentary show, which inspired an army of copycats ranging from VH1's "Behind the Music" to "The E! True Hollywood Story."
The program became so popular that, in 1998, A&E was able to spin off an entire cable network, the Biography Channel (search).
But lately, "Biography" has averaged less than 700,000 viewers — a number even A&E programming chief Robert DiBitetto says wouldn't be acceptable for a new series.
Even more glaring is the fact that other A&E shows are more than doubling the "Biography" audience.
"Dog the Bounty Hunter" which delves into the seedy world of a New York-based bounty hunter, regularly averages 1.6 million viewers, while "Cold Case Files" draws about 1.5 million.
Yet tales of the impending death of "Biography" may be greatly exaggerated, say A&E execs.
That's because despite its low ratings, "Biography" still makes money for A&E — and that may be its ultimate lifeline for at least one more season.
"There are also blue chip [advertising] clients of A&E that love the series," DiBitetto says. "It drives business disproportionate to the ratings — there's a financial consequence to canceling it."
A&E officials say that whatever the future of "Biography," it won't affect The Biography Channel.
And even if A&E stops making new "Biography" episodes, a spinoff called "Being" — produced by Mick Jagger — is already waiting in the wings.