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Miramax Takes Stab at ‘Kill Bill’ TV Run

Oct 27, 2003  •  Post A Comment

Is TV ready for “Kill Bill?”
The bloody Quentin Tarantino film from Miramax was No. 1 at the box office when it opened two weeks ago, and some cable networks say they could be interested in the edgy movie, whose broadcast window is just now hitting the marketplace.
To a degree, the dismembering samurai sword fights in “Kill Bill” might be scaring away some broadcast and cable networks, even though standards on cable have grown remarkably lax. However, “Kill Bill” is hardly the only top-grossing movie waiting on the shelf to be claimed by a broadcast or cable network. The gory “Texas Chainsaw Massacre” remake also is waiting in the wings.
Network acquisition executives and studio sales representatives say the market has changed and that the days when a film got sold immediately after its opening weekend are long gone. So are the days when a studio could count on getting 15 percent of the box office for a film’s first broadcast window.
While movies still draw solid ratings on cable despite growing sales of DVD, bidding wars for top titles are rare. Indeed, Warner Bros. has some 25 titles, including “The Matrix Reloaded,” on the shelf. Even the relatively broadcast-friendly “School of Rock,” due to be sold by Paramount as early as this week, is unlikely to set off a frenzy, executives said.
So can “Kill Bill” sell to commercial television? Rick Sands, chief operating officer of Miramax Film, said he’s hopeful a deal can get done in the next few weeks. He has already had discussions with a few of the cable networks.
While Mr. Tarantino’s acclaimed “Pulp Fiction” has never appeared on broadcast or ad-supported cable television, Mr. Sands said “Kill Bill” is a very different proposition.
“The violence in this movie is much different. It plays in a more cartoonish fashion. Plus, we have a female heroine who was wronged,” he said. “It’s a little different, perceptionally, than `Pulp Fiction.”’
Mr. Sands said that while “Kill Bill” is part one of a two-part story, he’s willing to sell each film separately. At least one network has asked if it could secure rights to both parts, he said.
“We’re going to see where the box office ends up,” he said last week. “The picture’s been holding up exceptionally well at the box office. We’re at almost $46 million in 12 days.”
Oxygen Interested
While it’s unlikely that the broadcast networks will have a taste for the film’s gore, some cable networks seem intrigued.
“I think `Kill Bill’ would be great for us, actually,” said Debbie Beece, president of programming at Oxygen. The film stars Uma Thurman as a revenge-seeking killer who would fit right in with “La Femme Nikita” and “Xena, Warrior Princess,” both of which Oxygen carries in repeats. “We like female action heroes,” Ms. Beece said.
Violent content could be an issue, however.
“The idea of the movie is appealing,” she said. “We need to look at it for acceptance on the small screen.”
Any film can be edited, said Chuck Saftler, senior VP, programming and acquisitions, FX Networks. FX managed to air “Boogie Nights,” a drama about the porn industry, in a late-night time slot.
“Sometimes that process works and sometimes that process doesn’t work, and you have to take it on a case-by-case basis,” Mr. Saftler said. “You don’t want the viewer left with a movie that’s unrecognizable to them.”
Mr. Saftler said that before deciding to bid on a film with so many violent scenes, he would have to see the edited version.
Paul Noble, VP, feature films, Lifetime Entertainment Services, said content has always been an issue when movies move to television.
“When `The Godfather’ was released, people said `that will never get on television.’ Now it’s on almost every night,” he said. “When I saw `Scarface,’ I was horrified. Now it’s a classic and it’s seen on cable.”
If movies such as “Goodfellas” and “Casino” have made their way onto cable, can “Kill Bill”?
“I haven’t seen it, so I really can’t comment,” Mr. Noble said. “But I can’t understand why someone would pour millions into a movie and not have it available for every ancillary showing.”
Certainly, “Kill Bill” has some attractive elements.
“It’s definitely got a high profile to it. I think they’ve done a great job of bringing an audience into the theaters, and that’s certainly one of the first things you look at when evaluating a property,” Mr. Saftler said.
Overall, he said, the market for theatricals has been soft for several years. “What’s affected the marketplace more than anything is that the broadcast networks have chosen to take what used to be their movie money and invest that in reality product,” he said. The networks are buying fewer runs of movies within narrower windows. “And they’re spending a significantly less amount of money, which then puts cable in the driver’s seat for these network premieres.”
Clearly, movie distributors have to work harder to generate the 15 percent of box office distributors have traditionally sought from cable.
Mr. Sands of Miramax said one way he tries to get to the 15 percent mark is by selling shorter windows. “We very often like to sell a two- or three-year window and save the back-end for another sale,” he said. “Or put different networks together for different windows. It seems to be a more prudent way to get to the number you need to get to.”
Having networks take turns showing a picture has several advantages.
“It’s better for suppliers and producers, it’s better for viewers and it’s better for the networks” if the movie is shown on different channels at different times, he said. And films sometimes get sold late when networks need programming to fill holes in their schedules, particularly in the summertime.
But overall, he said, putting movies on television remains a good business for both studios and networks.