BSkyB flies ‘Eagle’ as 1st original prod’n

“Spread Eagle,” a four-hour miniseries based on a story by Ken Follett, was unveiled yesterday as the first original drama production to be commissioned by British Sky Broadcasting, the satellite TV venture.

It is also the first project to emerge from Hannibal, the new TV development and financing company co-owned by Germany’s Tele-Munchen and Italy’s RCS Video, which was launched last month at Mipcom.

Follett, best-selling author of action-adventure novels, and his British co-producer Geoffrey Reeve, have entered a long-term relationship with Hannibal to develop miniseries under the banner “Ken Follett Presents … Suspense.” They expect to produce two or three a year over the next three years.

“Spread Eagle,” the first in the series, will be shot next summer for screening on BSkyB’s Sky One channel in the late fall.

It will be produced at London’s Pinewood Studios with a British crew, but no details are yet available of the cast, director or budget, and the financing structure remains a tightly guarded secret.

However, BSkyB deputy managing director Gary Davey confirmed that Hannibal would be handling international distribution, and that both Hannibal and BSkyB would participate in any back-end profits, if they accrue.

Per Davey, the decision to commission a prime time drama “marks a momentous turning point for Sky.”

The company has attracted criticism in the past for its heavy reliance on imported American or Australian entertainment shows.

Davey said that with this announcement, BSkyB was entering “stage three” in the development of its program service. “Stage one was to get the film content right; stage two was to get the sports content right; and stage three is to get the entertainment content right.”

Davey said BSkyB plans to commission more original prime time drama, but he was vague on details. “In the next few months, we will start talking about a number of new projects to follow immediately after ‘Spread Eagle,’ ” he said.

There is no automatic commitment for BSkyB to back further Follett miniseries , and the company is known to be scouting for its own soap.

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