Avalon/NFU Studios is embarking on a $ 5 million miniseries based on the life of New Zealand’s greatest living hero, Sir Edmund Hillary, potentially signaling a new era of competition with fellow TV New Zealand’s production subsid South Pacific Pictures (SPP).

“Higher Ground” is the first project to be announced by Larry Parr, indie producer who recently came on board at Avalon as production chief.

It reflects his desire to expand Avalon’s production slate beyond gameshows and reality programming.

The mini signals a challenge to the supremacy of SPP — one of the largest co-producers in Australasia — as TVNZ’s major in-house drama producer and sees the two companies competing for backing, both locally and abroad, as each seeks pre-sales to supplement budgets.

Avalon is currently in discussions with U.K. broadcasters on “Higher Ground.”

Mini will dramatize Hillary’s conquest of Mount Everest and his overland crossing of the South Pole, and start shooting late next year; a theatrical version is also planned, according to Parr.

It’s the first dramatization of Hillary’s life; despite overtures from Hollywood (believed to include one from Clint Eastwood), he’s always wanted a Kiwi or Australian to portray him.

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