Big Miniseries Herald Falls Return

9/12/1999 8:00 PM Eastern

Hallmark Entertainment may now be a part-owner of Odyssey,
A Hallmark & Henson Network, but it still has a batch of original miniseries and
movies in the works with other cable networks, including three big projects that will
debut during the next three weeks.

A&E Network premiered the first part of its Hallmark
miniseries, P.T. Barnum, this past Sunday (Sept. 12), with the second part slated
to air today (Sept. 13). Beau Bridges stars as the quintessential American showman.

Then, USA Network debuts its $15 million Hallmark
miniseries, Journey to the Center of the Earth,Tuesday and Wednesday (Sept.
14 and 15). Based on the classic Jules Verne novel, Journey stars Treat Williams, Party
of Five
'sJeremy London and Bryan Brown.

And on Oct. 3, Turner Network Television will air its $24
million Hallmark made-for-TV movie, Animal Farm, based on the George Orwell novel.

Last November, Hallmark and The Jim Henson Co. acquired a
stake in faith-and-values network Odyssey, and they are now managing and repositioning the
entity for its other owners, which include Liberty Media Group and the National Interfaith
Cable Coalition.

A Hallmark spokeswoman said last week that the
company's ownership in Odyssey would not damp its enthusiasm for working with other
cable networks that it has long-standing relationships with.

"We have no plans to abandon our relationships with
other cable networks," the spokeswoman said. "But we do plan to do original
programming for Odyssey." In fact, The Legend of Sleepy Hollow, which Hallmark
produced for Odyssey, premieres Oct. 23.

Officials at A&E and USA Network said they decided to
air their Hallmark co-productions -- often executive-produced by Hallmark's Robert
Halmi Sr. (although P.T. Barnum is being executive-produced by David Picker) -- in
September to beat the broadcast networks to the punch in terms of the new fall season.

"We like to have something big for the start of the
season, for advertisers and for viewers," A&E senior vice president of
programming Michael Cascio said. "And we're going back when the broadcast
networks are not yet in full swing. It works for us on a number of levels."

In this particular case, P.T. Barnum was "a
perfect match" for A&E as an original miniseries, according to Cascio.

"We pick topics that have popular appeal, but that
have some other resonance with the public," he said. "And Barnum was the
inventor of modern hype. That has resonance for the times."

A&E is also putting a lot of marketing
"muscle" behind P.T. Barnum, Cascio said. The campaign includes a
national affiliate sweepstakes, a kids' tie-in with nearly 400 TGI Fridays Inc.
restaurants, a talent search in three cities and radio promotions in 10 markets.

USA scheduled Journey for this week not only because
the broadcasters aren't into their new fall schedules yet, but also because children
are now back in school and people are reverting to old viewing habits, according to USA
Networks Inc. vice president of long-form programming Adam Shapiro.

"People are settling back into their normal
lives," he said. "This is truly a great time for family TV viewing … And
this is a big, splashy epic event."

USA is putting some promotional effort behind Journey,
supporting it with a sweepstakes in partnership with Circuit City Stores Inc.

While he has high hopes for Journey, Shapiro
doesn't think the miniseries will do quite as well as USA's first collaboration
with Hallmark, Moby Dick. That two-part miniseries broke ratings records in March
1998, posting 8.1 ratings each of its two nights.

TNT opted to premiere Animal Farm in October for a
number of reasons, including the fact that "this is quite a serious movie,"
according to senior vice president of marketing Scot Safon.

"It felt fall-like, just like the studios bring out
their more serious movies in the fall," he added.

In addition, the Oct. 3 airdate is before the National
Basketball Association season, so it won't conflict with any of the network's
game telecasts, Safon added. "It's a good window of opportunity," he said.

Both TNT and USA have additional co-production projects in
the works with Hallmark.

This December, TNT will air A Christmas Carol, with
Patrick Stewart as Ebenezer Scrooge. Then in April, TNT has Hallmark's Don Quixote,
featuring Bob Hoskins and Isabella Rossellini. And next December, TNT is slated to air the
miniseries David Copperfield, which will star Seinfeld'sMichael
Richards and Sally Field.

Adding Animal Farm into that mix, Safon said,
"All four are big productions with major talent attached."

USA is also talking with Hallmark about a miniseries on
Attila the Hun that is in development for next year, Shapiro said. He expects USA's
fruitful relationship with Hallmark to continue, Odyssey notwithstanding.

"We're continuing to develop projects with
them," Shapiro said. "They have to. They can't survive by being a
production arm to Odyssey. They'll continue to do projects not only with us, but with
Turner and other networks. They've carved out a niche for quality programming, and
whatever network takes advantage of that reaps the benefit."

Added Cascio: "We have a good relationship with
[Hallmark], and we don't expect that to change. They have expressed a desire to keep
all of their options open."

Odyssey officials maintained that all of the new
productions Hallmark is doing for other cable networks will ultimately appear on Odyssey.
But programming officials at some of the other cable services questioned that assertion,
saying it depended on the individual deals for each project.

"The deals are different," Cascio said. "At
A&E, we want our movies to be part of our repertoire for a long time. We're not
in the business of just licensing product."

Want to read more stories like this?
Get our Free Newsletter Here!