Fox overhauls telepic prod’n subsid

After false starts brought about by staff and project turnover, Fox Broadcasting Co. has renamed its FNM Films TV movie production subsidiary and embarked on a new method of doing business–including higher budgets and co-productions with outside parties.

The unit, newly christened Fox West Pictures Inc., has set five movies for production in 1993 to air in its Monday “Fox Night at the Movies” slot and said it eventually hopes to produce 15 to 20 original films annually to augment its lineup of theatricals, which Fox West will also be responsible for acquiring.

Fox West president Rick Bieber, who was charged with overhauling the TV movie subsidiary, said that budgets for the initial handful of movies are in the $ 3 million-to-$ 4 million range–a level competitive with projects for the Big Three networks, and significantly higher than the low-$ 2 million level Fox initially sought in producing for the movie slot.

In addition, Fox will now co-produce projects with other companies, having originally sought to produce all the movies in-house and retain all distribution rights. Bieber says Fox will share equity interest in projects and has been soliciting outside financing to provide the bigger budgets and “more of a movie feel” to its productions.

FNM had a hard time attracting talent under its hardball negotiating approach , in which Fox not only owned all rights but paid relatively low salaries.

In terms of content, however, Fox will continue to steer clear of the fact-based dramas that dominate the networks, instead seeking broader entertainment vehicles that tend to travel better overseas.

Projects planned for ’93 include “Life Pod,” a futuristic re-make of “Lifeboat” from Trilogy Entertainment and RHI Entertainment in association with Fox West, starring Ron Silver and written by Jay Roach and Pen Densham; and “Based on an Untrue Story,” a spoof of TV movies starring Morgan Fairchild, Dyan Cannon, Robert Goulet and Ricki Lake.

Also, “Model by Day,” about a model who moonlights as a crimefighter, from Lewis B. Chesler Prods. and Empath Films; “12:01,” a psychological thriller about an experiment gone awry directed by Jack Shoulder (“The Hidden”) and produced through Chanticleer Films; and “Attack of the Fifty Foot Woman,” a remake of the 1958 camp classic by HBO Pictures (which will run the movie first) and Lorimar. The last three are also in association with Fox West.

Those movies will probably air next spring, with the movie slot expected to be sporadic through the summer and come back with another flight of originals and theatricals in late ’93 and early ’94.

Once the movie night becomes a weekly entry, Fox (which adds Tuesday to its lineup next month) will be at 16 hours of programming a week and have six months to drop an hour to avoid being labeled a network under the current Federal Communications Commission definition. Fox’s alternatives include excising the Sunday 10-11 p.m. hour or simply airing the movie slot on a bi-weekly basis.

Fox formed FNM Films two years ago and has announced several false starts in terms of when “Fox Night at the Movies” would become a regular presence on the schedule. Bieber took over the operation last April and redirected the department, junking much of the development he inherited.

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