New York -- Jump-starting its effort to air original
movies, Starz! has begun debuting one world-premiere movie every month, with films
starring actors such as Mira Sorvino, Marlon Brando, Patrick Stewart, Joe Mantegna and
Charlie Sheen, officials said last week.
By creating a monthly "Starz! Pictures"
franchise, the pay service hopes to complement its regular theatrical-movie lineup, said
Robert Leighton, senior vice president of programming for Encore Media Group.
"Ultimately, we're looking to add value for the
consumer," Leighton said. "It's more movies and, secondarily,
world-premiere movies. And it serves as a bit of a lightning rod for attention. It's
a supercharger to the whole equation."
In the past, Starz! had only been producing and airing
three or four original movies per year. But the new monthly Starz! Pictures schedule began
this past Saturday (Nov. 7), when the service debuted Let It Be Me, starring
Jennifer Beals and Stewart.
Of the six premiere movies that Starz! has scheduled so far
through April, only one is actually being produced by Starz! Pictures: Funny Valentines,
with Alfre Woodward, CCH Pounder and Loretta Devine. The rest were acquired from other
studios -- features that never saw theatrical release -- Leighton said.
Those films have high-profile stars and fit the kind of
story profile that Starz! is looking for, but they represented the kind of
"soft," character-driven tales that might not readily get major distribution,
according to Leighton.
Using those acquisitions permits Starz! to quickly get on a
monthly schedule of world premieres for originals.
"We're really jump-starting this whole
process," Leighton said.
Some of the other world-premiere films that Starz! has
lined up include: Curtain Call, starring James Spader, Michael Caine and Maggie
Smith, debuting Dec. 5; Rhapsody in Blue, premiering Jan. 2 and starring Ron Silver
and Penelope Ann Miller; Free Money, debuting in March and featuring Brando, Sheen,
Sorvino and Donald Sutherland; and Hoods, which airs in April and stars Mantegna,
Kevin Pollak and Jennifer Tilley.
And sister network Encore will debut its first original
programming with the world premiere of its documentary, The Lady with the Torch, a
two-hour salute to Columbia Pictures, hosted by actress Glenn Close. It will air Jan. 8 at
8 p.m. That weekend, Encore will present a 75-hour marathon of theatricals from the
To further augment its supply of films, late last month,
Encore Media Group signed an output deal with October Films, an independent-film company
that has distributed such movies as Apostle, Breaking the Waves and
Secrets and Lies. That agreement will give Encore exclusive rights to all first-run
theatricals released by the studio starting in September 2000 and continuing for more than
"We're really betting on the future,"
Leighton said. "This is bringing us a whole new stream of movies It's a
step toward diversifying."
Starz! and Encore have also started an effort to promote
some of their movies under specific genres and program blocks, so that viewers can more
easily find the films that they're interested in.
For example, on Monday nights at 10 p.m., Starz! is airing
"Cinematheque,"or independent films. And Encore is doing blocks under
its "Spotlight" banner, which highlight one performer's career every month
by airing three to five of that performer's movies.
Starz!'s distribution is now nearly 9 million, while
Encore is in 13 million homes, the company said.