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Katrina Telefilms in Pipeline

Sep 12, 2005  •  Post A Comment

As the floodwaters recede in New Orleans, a storm of TV movie projects based on the Hurricane Katrina disaster are on the horizon.

According to several sources, a number of producers are readying pitches. But so far, the enormity of the catastrophe has dissuaded most of the creative community from approaching networks with scripted projects.

“Everybody has ideas but nobody wants to go out yet, because networks are not ready to buy,” one top agent said. “A lot of horrible stuff has happened out there. There’s nothing positive yet. No buyer wants to jump up and say, ‘We bought this.'”

The question isn’t whether to do a movie, sources said, but how long to wait. After last year’s tsunami in Southeast Asia, agency sources said, ABC, NBC and CBS all bought telepic projects that are currently in development. (None of the networks wished to comment for this story.) One project sold within a week of the disaster.

But the tsunami lacked the close-to-home impact of Katrina and the continuing post-storm bombardment of increasingly devastating images in the media.

One programming executive at a top broadcast network said he has yet to receive any hurricane pitches and that the proper mourning period depends on the particulars of the project.

“It’s hard to tell what the right waiting period is,” he said. “It all depends on the story.”

This situation comes at a time when 9/11 telepic projects are abundant. National Geographic Channel just scored record ratings with “Inside 9/11.” Last weekend, Discovery was to premiere “The Flight That Fought Back,” about Flight 93, which crashed in a Pennsylvania field. Plus there are series, such as “Sleeper Cell” on Showtime and the latest season of “24,” exploring terrorism themes.

Even so, 9/11 was four years ago, and networks resisted announcing 9/11 projects in the months immediately following the tragedy.

Another issue with Hurricane Katrina is choosing what story to tell. The hurricane has affected hundreds of thousands of people. There is the government angle, and there are stories of families trying to survive. There are personal losses and business stories. There are stories involving a huge cast that includes everyone from National Guardsmen to looters.

“I’ve been glued to the news. It’s not like I can say I found a story that’s a movie-yet,” said an agent who packages telepics. “But I’ve been approached by clients. We definitely have had discussions internally. Will there be one down the road? I’m sure.”

One producer who has worked in television and film said she wouldn’t even consider a Katrina project yet.

“It feels ghoulish,” she said. “It takes so long to make that it may be a good idea to get started quickly, but I wouldn’t touch it. It’s not entertainment right now.”