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Mar 28, 2001  •  Post A Comment

Odyssey to be reborn as Hallmark

Send a bon voyage card to the Odyssey Network and jot down a greeting to the Hallmark Channel, the newest worldwide brand in cable, brought to viewers searching for family-friendly programming by Hallmark Cards and Crown Media Holdings.

On Aug. 6, Odyssey will rebrand and relaunch as the Hallmark Channel, promising “trustworthy and safe” family-friendly programming that adults can enjoy and that will satisfy the cultural critics in Washington and elsewhere.

That was the guarantee made repeatedly during today’s conference call for reporters, investors and others announcing the channel’s new name.

The Hallmark Channel will draw upon the Hallmark archive, which includes 208 “Hallmark Hall of Fame” presentations, and will commission original production both from Hallmark Entertainment and from other producers. The channel will debut six original movies, two original miniseries and three new series this year, according to Margaret Loesch, president and CEO of Crown Media United States for the Hallmark Channel U.S.

Titles announced include “Johnson County War,” a miniseries written by Larry McMurtry (“Lonesome Dove”) and starring Tom Berenger and Rachel Ward; “Stranded,” a four-hour adventure based on “Swiss Family Robinson”; and the series “Lincoln Hall,” “The Neverending Story” and “Telling Stories With Tomie dePaola,” a 26-episode half-hour series from The Jim Henson Co.

Sprunt sprints from Turner: Julia Sprunt, Turner Broadcasting System’s corporate vice president of public relations, human resources and corporate resources, plans to retire at the end of April. Her announcement is seen as another sign that the Ted Turner era has ended the empire he founded. Speculation on succession is focused on Brad Turell, executive vice president of network communications for The WB and longtime confidant of Jamie Kellner-who last month took over the reconfigured Turner Networks division that includes The WB-and of former WB programmer Garth Ancier, named Mr. Kellner’s executive vice president of programming last week.

MGM, NBC Enterprises complete deal: After laying the groundwork at the National Association of Television Program Executives conference, MGM and NBC Enterprises have now finalized a multiyear alliance under which MGM will provide distribution services for all NBC Studios programming across all territories outside of North America.

Effective immediately, MGM will handle all of NBC’s current and future programming overseas, including “Will & Grace” and “Providence.” The agreement includes made-for-television movies, miniseries and specials. MGM will use its international distribution arms in Los Angeles, London, Sydney and Atlanta. NBC Enterprises will continue to handle its news, sports, late night and formats worldwide.

Disney offers exit package for some: ABC employees are expecting to learn tomorrow or Friday whether they are eligible for the voluntary exit package being offered by parent The Walt Disney Co., which announced it intends to eliminate 4,000 jobs by this summer. Sources say the incentive package will include one week’s pay per year of service plus an additional eight weeks’ pay.

Granada promotes pair: Granada Entertainment USA, the Los Angeles-based network TV series production arm of British broadcaster Granada Television Ltd., has promoted William Hamm to executive vice president of series programming and Ann Johnson to senior vice president of series programming.