BET Movies, Lee Team for Newton

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New York-BET Movies, continuing its expansion into original programming, will produce a film on Black Panther

Party co-founder Huey Newton directed by Spike Lee.

The 90-minuteA Huey P. Newton Storywill be executive-produced by BET Movies, a Starz Encore Group LLC channel, in association with the Public Broadcasting Service and the African Heritage Network, a TV sales and distribution company.

The film will be Roger Guenveur Smith's adaptation of his Obie-winning, one-man off-Broadway play, in which he portrays Newton.

A Huey P. Newton Storyhas toured both overseas and across the United States, from Los Angeles to New York.

At a press conference last week, Encore Entertainment Group president Robert Leighton noted that BET Movies unveiled its first original programming lineup two years ago. This year, its originals roster includes not onlyA Huey P. NewtonStory,which will be filmed in New York in front of a live audience, but also the documentaryPublic Enemy,about four former Black Panther members.

BothA Huey P. Newton StoryandPublic Enemywill premiere on BET Movies next year, probably in the second quarter. PBS will have the right to airNewtonafter its window on BET Movies, probably in 2002.

Both Lee and Smith, who have collaborated on six theatrical films, appeared at the press briefing, held during the National Association of Minorities in Communications' Urban Markets Conference.

Lee said it was a challenge to do a film based on a play about on a real person. "You have to be very respectful of that person," Lee said. "It's no joke and nothing to play around with."

He also noted that Smith faced "a hard struggle trying to get the finances" to doA Huey P. Newton Story,similar to Lee's fight to fund his hit movieThe Kings of Comedy.

Lee had been slated to appear at July's Television Critics Association's summer press tour to talk about the Newton movie. But BET Movies cancelled the session, apparently because the project had been halted, reportedly over distribution issues.

Since then, the African Heritage Network was brought into the deal to act as the syndicator forA Huey P. Newton Storyonce it airs on BET Movies and PBS.

When asked what held up the project this summer, Lee replied, "We had to work things out, and I worked things out and I'm here."

Officials at BET Movies, which won four awards from NAMIC last week, said they don't have an updated subscriber number for the service. But industry sources put the network's carriage at an estimated 5 million to 6 million homes.

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