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ABC still big on minis, telefilms

Apr 2, 2001  •  Post A Comment

At a time when NBC and CBS are seriously mulling cutting back on original telefilms and miniseries, ABC plans to remain firmly planted in the big-event, long-form TV business.

Of course, ABC is the only network that has seen positive results lately-the network has aired six of the 10 top-rated movies and miniseries so far this season among adults 18 to 49, including “South Pacific” and “Life With Judy Garland: Me and My Shadows.”

Susan Lyne, executive vice president of movies and miniseries, said ABC has more than 90 movies and miniseries in various stages of development for the 2001-02 season and beyond. Each telefilm is budgeted at between $4 million and $6 million, and high-profile miniseries can reach up to $12 million.

ABC’s commitment to long-form programming comes at a time when CBS is considering phasing out either its Sunday or Wednesday night movie and NBC might ax its Sunday movie in favor of dramas.

CBS has about 102 long-form projects in various stages of development but may only commit to as few as 40 projects over the next two seasons, according to TVtracker.com’s development database. NBC has about 42 long-form projects in development but may commit to producing as few as 18 projects over the next two seasons.

After recent high-profile miniseries bombs like NBC’s “The Tenth Kingdom” and “The Lost Empire,” Ms. Lyne’s division makes it a priority to devise ancillary revenue streams, such as home video and international sales.

“Part of how we do finance these event films like `Annie,’ where we sold over 2 million home videos [through Buena Vista Home Video], comes from consumers purchasing this to cherish for their video libraries,” said Ms. Lyne. “We do share in some parts of the home-video and international revenues, but most of it goes back to the benefit of the company.”

ABC’s next potential home-video best-seller could come from the revival of the musical “South Pacific,” which scored a top-ranked 11.2 rating/17 share household average and 15.8 million viewers in its broadcast March 26, according to Nielsen Media Research.

The network also owns the top-ranked miniseries this season among adults 18 to 49-the two-part “Judy Garland: Me and My Shadows,” which pulled a 6.8 rating in the demo, along with a 13.8 household rating. Other top-ranked performers were “Oprah Winfrey Presents: Amy & Isabelle,” Wonderful World of Disney’s “The Miracle Worker” and “The Growing Pains Movie,” and “These Old Broads.”

For next season, Ms. Lyne is again looking at an “eclectic mix” of long-form projects, ranging from “When Billie Beat Bobby” (about the Billie Jean King-Bobby Riggs tennis match) to a live-action revival of “Snow White,” a new telling of the Anne Frank saga and a remake of “The Music Man.”

Among the miniseries on slate are Stephen King’s much-anticipated “Red Rose,” his first major TV or film project since he was seriously injured by a hit-and-run driver, and the computer-generated “Dinotopia” from Hallmark Entertainment’s veteran long-form producer Robert Halmi Jr.

The network is also shooting more movies in international locations, such as the Anne Frank story in Prague, Czechoslovakia.

Other major international productions on the slate are “Superfire” (in New Zealand), “Wrinkle in Time” (Vancouver, Canada), “Child Star: The Shirley Temple Story” (Australia) and a remake of “Brian’s Song” (Toronto) from producers Neil Meron and Scott Zadan, whose Storyline Entertainment has a lucrative exclusive deal to supply telefilms and minis to ABC.

Mr. Meron and Mr. Zadan, who were the creative team behind the “Judy Garland” miniseries, are also on board for the revivals of Broadway musicals “Mame” (rumored to be signing Cher for the lead), “The Music Man” (starring Matthew Broderick), “Fiddler on the Roof” and “The Wiz.”

“Obviously, the ripped-from-the-headlines, true crime and life-lesson made-for-TV movies are too generic and have not worked as well for the other networks,” Ms. Lyne said. “We really think we’ve found a unique niche in offering a wide array of fanciful, adventurous and entertaining event movies and minis in keeping with ABC’s reputation in this arena.”

Ms. Lyne is also providing an assist to ABC’s prime-time series department and sister studio Touchstone Television, greenlighting a back-door pilot called “NTSB” (a k a “Everything That Rises”) about the National Transportation Safety Board, the government agency that investigates plane crashes.

“Final Jeopardy,” based on a female sex-crimes prosecutor and starring Dana Delaney, is said to be a back-door pilot project already shot as a telefilm, but Ms. Lyne did not know if it is firmly being considered for a series at the network.