History Developing Great Plague Of London Drama From Michael Hirst & Donner Party Series As Cable Net Ramps Up Miniseries Strategy
30th November 2020

The History Channel is building out its plans to move back into the miniseries space with two new scripted projects – a drama about the London plague from Vikings creator Michael Hirst and a series about the Donner Party from documentary filmmaker Ric Burns.

The A+E Networks-owned cable channel is developing The Plague Year through A+E Studios, its in-house production division, and The Donner Party (w/t) from Cineflix Media, Steeplechase Films and Augusta Films.

The network is looking to build on its legacy of miniseries such as Hatfields & McCoys, starring Kevin Costner and Bill Paxton, which was a huge hit when it launched in 2012.

This comes after Rob Sharenow, President of Programming at A+E Networks, told Deadline earlier this summer that it was focusing on miniseries, including titles centered around Alcatraz and the Roman Empire, rather than returnable scripted series, which he called a “fraught path” for the company given the competitive nature of the marketplace. “We’re definitely leaning into limited series and miniseries. That’s traditionally been what’s done best for our audience,” he said.

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The Plague Year, written by Rectify and The Killing writer Coleman Herbert, is a portrait of 1665 London, during one of the all-time worst outbreaks of the Bubonic Plague. It’s the story of a society in turmoil, struggling to adapt to a new set of rules, finding its footing during a time of fear, paranoia, and suspicion. As Londoners flee in droves, those who remain in the city, whether by choice or by fate, find their resolves tested and old wounds reopened, as they are faced with an impossible question: how do you keep going when everything around you has fallen to pieces?

The Donner Party explores one of America’s most iconic and tragic pioneer stories. Setting out for California in the Spring of 1846, James Reed, his family, and a hopeful wagon train of migrants were drawn by the promise of a better life out west. Little did they know that their ill-fated expedition, doomed to be trapped in the Sierra Nevada Mountains for the winter, would face unimaginable hardships that brought out the best, and worst, in humanity.

Ric Burns, brother of Ken Burns and director of the 1992 documentary on the Donner Party, is writer and showrunner. He will exec produce alongside Nancy Buirski.

“History’s scripted programming in development embraces our roots with premium historical miniseries that resonate with our audience and complement our event megadoc content centered on big moments throughout our history.  We look forward to partnering again with the brilliant Michael Hirst and teaming with Ric Burns and our very own A+E Studios to deliver content that will entertain, enlighten, and engage our viewers’ curiosity about the past,” said Eli Lehrer, Executive Vice President and General Manager for The History Channel. “We’ve been evolving our scripted business model for the brand, with a shift in focus to our legacy in big event limited-series, including both fully commissioned and co-produced projects.”

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