ABC moves to revitalize series development

Jan 21, 2002  •  Post A Comment

Newly anointed ABC Entertainment President Susan Lyne is wasting no time trying to plug holes at the struggling network.
She is already looking to her old contacts in Hollywood’s long-form production and New York’s literary communities to try their hand at producing series for the network.
Ms. Lyne told critics at the Television Critics Association press tour in Pasadena, Calif., last week that she is intent on making ABC again a “talent magnet” for TV’s producers.
Ms. Lyne, who previously oversaw ABC’s telefilms and miniseries department, said long-form producers Neil Meron and Craig Zadan, best known for producing top-rated ABC telefilms “Life With Judy Garland: Me and My Shadows,” “Brian’s Song” and “Annie,” are developing TV series for the network.
“We do have several pilot scripts in development with Craig and Neil. … They’re definitely two very, very creative producers [and] we’d like to transition their talents over to the series arena,” said Ms. Lyne, who declined to identify the specific projects.
Mr. Zadan, who is partnered with Mr. Meron in the Hollywood production company Storyline Entertainment, confirmed that his company already has a handful of series in development in association with Disney/ABC-owned Touchstone Television, among others.
“What happened last year, with this incredible string of hit movies [including `Judy Garland’], we started talking to Susan about interest in doing TV series,” Mr. Zadan said. “Even before Susan got the top job [at ABC Entertainment], she believed enough in us to put us together with Touchstone. We told her we wanted to take a chance [on doing series], and she has always been the first [network] executive we’ve known that is not afraid to take risks.”
Mr. Zadan said Ms. Lyne is clearly looking to break ABC out of the mold of “cookie cutter” sitcoms. The Disney-owned network has often been the target of critics for having too many plain vanilla, family-oriented sitcoms.
Topping the list of high-risk sitcom development projects from the Zadan/Meron team is “Black Book: Diary of a Teenage Stud,” an edgy comedy-first in development at Fox-about a high school student who recounts his sexual exploits in his diary. In addition to Touchstone, it is being developed in association with Greenblatt Janollari Studio and Regency Television.
Another envelope-pushing project, Mr. Zadan said, is the comedy pilot “Bob and Carol, and Ted and Alex,” from writer-creator William Lucas Walker, about a pair of remarried gay and heterosexual couples who must share in the raising of their biological children.
There is also an untitled drama from “Tomb Raider” co-writers John Linman and Patrick Massett about father-and-son archaeologists who look to unravel the world’s mysteries in the vein of “Indiana Jones,” Mr. Zadan said.
Ms. Lyne’s penchant for bringing long-form event producers also extends to novelist Stephen King, who she said will be writing most of the episodes for a new drama called “Kingdom,” about a hospital built over an ancient graveyard. Ms. Lyne said she is also having “exploratory” talks with Oprah Winfrey’s Harpo Productions about similarly developing series for ABC.
“I think that most of you know that I like to win,” Ms. Lyne told critics at the press tour. “But I also believe in trying to raise the bar, at least some of the time. We need to chase the projects that make noise. As Lloyd [Braun, chairman of ABC Television Entertainment Group] said … it does not take a lot of shows to turn around a network.”
Just last week, Ms. Lyne appeared intent on bringing continuity back to the network by penciling in acclaimed but ratings-challenged “Once and Again” to retake the 10 p.m.-to-11 p.m. (ET) Monday time slot it held last season, to begin in March after a seven-week hiatus.
Staying true to her long-form roots, Ms. Lyne last week also greenlighted a $30 million-plus miniseries project, “Dreamkeeper,” an epic saga dealing with the Native American experience, for likely broadcast in November 2003, from Robert Halmi Sr.’s Hallmark Entertainment.
The WB
At The WB’s portion of press tour last week, the network made second-season orders on freshman shows “Smallville” and “Reba,” and gave sophomore drama “Gilmore Girls” a renewal as well. Also, in keeping with the growing synergy with AOL Time Warner, the network’s Kids’ WB announced it would be sharing 13 new episodes of the cartoon classic “Scooby Doo” this season with The Cartoon Network. Kids’ WB has also placed an order for a new Saturday series called “Ozzie and Drix.”
Addressing The WB’s need to reignite its struggling Sunday night lineup, WB Entertainment President Jordan Levin said the debut of “The Jamie Kennedy Experiment” scored the network’s season-best ratings in adults 18 to 34 and men 18 to 34 last week in its 8:30 p.m.-to-9:30 p.m. slot. The network’s opening hour on Sundays is also scheduled to get a makeover with the new Ford Motor Co.-sponsored reality show “No Boundaries” starting on March 3 from 7 p.m. to 8 p.m.
Mr. Levin said The WB plans to take at least a dozen comedy pilots and up to 10 drama pilots into the fall 2002 season. He also confirmed that “Dawson’s Creek” producer Greg Berlanti is developing a new drama called “Everwood,” which The WB is considering as the next project for which it will seek funding from the Family-Friendly Programming Forum.
CBS Television President and CEO Leslie Moonves said he will act as CEO of UPN and hire a president of entertainment for the network. Dean Valentine, the UPN president who left the network Jan. 11, will not be replaced.
Mr. Moonves said CBS and UPN will keep separate development teams but that the two teams will be communicating with each other. He said there could be limited crossover, with a show developed for one network ending up on the other. But because of the two different demographic targets of the networks, he doesn’t expect that to happen much.
However, the two networks will work together on the ad-sales side. “There’s an opportunity for ad rates going up [on UPN],” Mr. Moonves said. “It’s much easier to sell UPN when you have the NFL to sell with it.”