Viacom’s Showtime Entertainment Group has started production and development on a slate of 14 to 16 original movies in 1993, featuring such talent as George C. Scott, John Lithgow and, making his full-length directing debut, Kiefer Sutherland.

The cabler is also working on a series of short films, including half-hours directed by Sydney Pollack, Paul Verhoeven, Sally Field, Danny Glover and Andy Garcia.

At a press gathering here, Steve Hewitt, president of Showtime Entertainment Group, and Jim Miller, executive VP of programming for Showtime, outlined the first projects to come from the newly formed wing.

For comparison, Showtime aired 11 original movies a year ago and will have aired 14 in 1992. Miller said the pix will carry budgets from $ 1.5 million to $ 6 million.

According to Hewitt, past outings such as the Dennis Hopper/Barbara Hershey fronted “Paris Trout” and the docu “Hearts of Darkness: A Filmmaker’s Apocalypse” have helped “turn the corner” in attracting top talent in front of and behind the cameras.

Goal is ratings

Miller explained that the goal with original productions is to garner ratings that equal the performance of theatrical acquisitions. Currently, the difference between the average original on the pay-cabler and the average theatrical is about one rating point and getting smaller.

For example, “Thelma & Louise” generated an 11.9 in its first outing while the original “The Fourth Story” posted an 11.1. On average, the originals are generating a 7.5 with the theatricals posting between an 8.5 and a 9 rating.

“The goal is to get double digits (with the originals),” Hewitt said.

To reach those goals, Showtime has agreed to productions with casts lead by the likes of JoBeth Williams, Talia Shire and Christopher Walken. The following is a list of projects on tap for 1993:

o “When a Stranger Calls Back,” a sequel to the 1979 chiller “When a Stranger Calls.” Picture reunites Charles Durning and Carole Kane. The project is the second in a four-picture deal between Showtime and MCA Television Entertainment. Also in development is “The Birds II,” a sequel to Alfred Hitchcock’s “The Birds.”

o George C. Scott, William Peterson and Julie Carmen front an untitled film that recently completed production in the Caribbean. Based on the book “The Price of Malta,” the film is from the Jones Entertainment Group, a production arm of MSO Jones Intercable.

o “The Hit List” is described as a commercial project about a woman who falls in love with the man she hires to protect her. The film is produced by William Webb and stars Jeff Fahey, James Coburn and Yancy Butler.

o “Chantilly Lace,” an unscripted and improvised story about a group of female friends, is a project in which SEG’s Hewitt takes a lot of pride. Starring Martha Plimpton, JoBeth Williams, Talia Shire, Lindsay Crouse, Jill Eikenberry, Ally Sheedy and Helen Slater, the film revolves around meetings among women on three different occasions. Linda Yellen produced and directed.

o “Body Bags,” a 90-minute trilogy of half-hours from John Carpenter. Carpenter will direct one seg and will play a coroner host for the package.

o Viacom Pictures is producing “The Wrong Man,” which teams director Jim McBride with Rosanna Arquette, Kevin Anderson and John Lithgow in a film about an American visitor accused of murder in Mexico.

o “SCAM,” also from Viacom Pictures, is about an ex-FBI agent who blackmails a con woman. Christopher Walken and Lorraine Bracco topline.

o Tony Goldwyn and Lynn Whitfield lead the cast in “Taking the Heat,” a Viacom Pictures film about a female detective protecting a murder witness from the mob.

o The first project to come from the partnership of Viacom Pictures and Quinta Communications will be “Crack in the Kremlin Wall,” an espionage thriller directed by John Irvin from a George Lee Marshall and David Taylor script. The project is a 50/50 co-production, with Viacom retaining domestic rights and Quinta getting all international rights to the work.

o Kiefer Sutherland will make his directorial debut on “Last Light,” about the relationship between a Death Row inmate and a prison guard. Amanda Plummer and Forest Whitaker co-star with Sutherland.

o Sally Field, Danny Glover, Laura Dern, Peter Weller, Don Johnson, Treat Williams and Andy Garcia also take directorial turns as part of the “Showtime 30 -Minute Movie” series, a partnership with Chanticleer Films.

o Showtime and Chanticleer also are developing their first full-length project, “Lush Life,” about the relationship between two N.Y.C. musicians. Michael Elias wrote the script.

o Lucasfilm Ltd. is developing a movie on the life of medical and psychic healer Edgar Cayce, tentatively titled “Freak of Nature.”

o Also in development is “The Court Martial of Johnson Whitaker,” based on the story of a young black cadet who, in 1881, defends his honor in the face of prejudice in the U.S. military. It’s being produced by William Link and written by Harry Moses.

o The United Kingdom’s Central Television and Showtime are collaborating on “Rasputin.”

o Rob Reiner will executive producer “But Seriously Folks,” a 90-minute movie special from Castle Rock Entertainment that will look at major historical events from a comic’s point of view. Richard Crystal and Fred Berner will produce, Jeff Lieberman will direct.

o Zalman King, whose series “Red Shoe Diaries” was recently reupped for 20 episodes, will produce “Lake Consequence,” an erotic drama starring Joan Severance and Billy Zane.

o Sydney Pollack’s Mirage Enterprises is developing a series of six half-hour noir crime stories by writers including Raymond Chandler, Dashiell Hammett, Cornell Woolrich and James M. Cain. Pollack, Paul Verhoeven and Phil Joanou are among the directors working on initial installments.

o David Jablin is developing a “new concept” comedy called “Virtual Realities.”

o Anthony Green and Gordon Freeman are producing “Marilyn Monroe: Life After Death,” a documentary about the actress’ skyrocketing career after her death.

o “Sex Sells,” a one-hour docu looking at TV advertisements and sex worldwide , will air in early 1993, as will “Naked Sports,” a two-hour Itel docu that goes behind the scenes in the sports industry.

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