It began ten years ago last month, with a profile of Josephine Baker. Since then A&E's Biography TV series has grown to be a six-nights-a-week-event, covering a diverse 300 subjects a year and attracting more than two million viewers each evening. A&E/New Video's videos of the shows were introduced six years ago, and are featured in a prominent display at Barnes &Noble stores around the country, and A&E/New Video audios related to the series will be released next month. Now, finally, in October, Crown will introduce an A&E Biography book series, starting with 168-page, photo-packed bios of Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis, Ronald Reagan, Pope John Paul II and Muhammad Ali; each trade paperback will have a 35,000-copy first printing and a $20 retail price.

So what took the books so long?

"We definitely thought it was a good idea to wait and see how the situation with Random House Value Publishing shook out," explained Bill Huelster, v-p of custom publishing, who supervises the Crown project. The series was set to launch last fall, then this month, under Value Publishing's Park Lane Press division; with the recent downsizing of Value, the division (and Huelster) were moved under the aegis of Crown earlier this year. "Park Lane won't be a regular imprint, per se, in that we won't have an ongoing list; rather, it will be used for books that we feel would fall well under this imprint," said Huelster. NBA at 50, for example, was a Crown/Park Lane release.

Under the licensing agreement with A&E, Crown contracted for eight Biography titles (the second four tentatively due out in spring 1998) with the option to publish others in the future, as well as a possible "best of" compilation and/or a children's line that will tie in to A&E's new Biography for Kids series.

Crown, A&E, and Balliett &Fitzgerald, a book packager hired by Crown, chose the subject and author for each title. The books are not transcripts of the TV programs, but new material by authors who are not connected to the series. The Onassis bio was written by Ellen Ladowsky, a style and political reporter who frequently contributes to the New Yorker, the New York Times and Mirabella. Kenneth T. Walsh, author of the Reagan book, is the White House correspondent for U.S. News &World Report and author of Feeding the Beast: The White House in the Media (Random, 1996). The Pope bio was written by former New York Times bureau chief John Moody, and Ali was analyzed by sportswriter John Stravinsky. The subjects set for spring 1998 are Katharine Hepburn, Mickey Mantle, Martin Luther King Jr. and Al Capone, the latter reflecting A&E and Crown's goal of a diverse mix. "The [book] series is in an experimental stage, and we are looking to the consumer to see what works-and what d sn't," said Tom Heymann, A&E v-p of new media.