USA Network, which is now shifting the emphasis of its
original movies to stories based on fact, has committed to an estimated $64 million so far
in long-form projects for 1999 and 2000.
Of that total, roughly $40 million is earmarked for two
four-hour miniseries: Journey to the Center of the Earth and Mata Hari.
Several ad-agency executives indicated last week that they
thought that USA was smart to increase its slate of original movies and miniseries,
although some said off the record that they were not yet convinced that USA has totally
forsaken its past sensational themes.
Eight original movies -- five inspired by true stories --
have now been put into development for 1999 and 2000, with an average production budget of
$3 million-plus, industry sources said.
These represent the first long-form projects under Barry
Diller's new USA Networks Inc. regime of Stephen Chao, president of programming and
marketing, and Adam Shapiro, vice president of long-form programming.
Shapiro, who hopes to schedule one movie per month starting
in July, indicated that five to 10 more movie titles might be put into the production
This past March's highly rated Moby Dick
miniseries inspired USA to have the same production company, Hallmark Entertainment,
develop Journey and Mata Hari, Chao said.
Journey, based on the Jules Verne novel, is targeted
for September, Shapiro said, while Mata Hari, based on a true World War II spy
story, is due in the first quarter of 2000.
As far as movies, Shapiro said, "We are diversifying
beyond the traditional women-in-jeopardy genre We're looking for ways to be
different." So far, that means relying heavily on true stories.
Although three movies deal with crime, he stressed,
"There's not really a lot that's crime-based. In looking for interesting,
provocative stories, [we found that those stories] just so happen to be true. Fact is
stranger than fiction."
Tom Winner, director of broadcast media at ad agency Wieden
& Kennedy, called USA's move to monthly movies "a smart idea." That,
plus its first-run series, would give "the appearance of having all-new programming
by promoting [those titles] every month," he added.
But when asked about Mary KayLeTourneau Story
-- about the 35-year-old teacher recently imprisoned for having an affair with a
13-year-old student -- Winner said sarcastically, "Now there's a topic worth