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‘Earth’ said headed to NBC

NBC reportedly has inked a deal with Steven Spielberg’s Amblin Entertainment and Universal TV extending a 22-episode commitment to a new sci-fi series for next season titled “Earth II.”

Sources say the producer is also developing an NBC series with author-filmmaker Michael Crichton — with whom he collaborated on the blockbuster feature “Jurassic Park”– through Warner Bros. TV. That show would be set against a medical emergency room backdrop (Crichton’s novels include “The Andromeda Strain” and “Coma”), with talk about a more conventional 13-episode commitment and “China Beach” producer John Wells serving as its show-runner.

The “Earth” project follows on the heels of last year’s pact between the same troika on “seaQuest DSV,” which NBC bought without a pilot on the strength of Spielberg’s name, ordering 22 episodes at a higher-than-usual license fee of $ 1 million per hour.

Terms weren’t available on the new project, but the deal is apparently in the same ballpark. Michael Duggan, a former producer on “Law & Order” who has an overall deal at Universal TV, is said to be involved in developing the show.

Amblin, Universal and the network all declined comment, but if “seaQuest” is renewed, the additional series could have Spielberg behind more than 50 hours of primetime programs next season.

The company appears to be stepping up its primetime TV activities. Amblin is prolific on the children’s animation front, where the company is allied with Warner Bros. on the Fox Children’s Network series “Animaniacs” and “Tiny Toon Adventures.”

NBC’s deal last year on “seaQuest” rocked the TV world, since networks traditionally order 13 episodes of a new show and have even been trying to cut back on that in some cases, with CBS buying no more than eight installments of its new series. In addition, “seaQuest” was sold based solely on a concept and its creative auspices, with Amblin saying a full-season commitment was needed to amortize the cost of mounting the expensive series.

Industry sources were surprised that a similar arrangement would be forthcoming on the new project, noting that “seaQuest” has fallen well short of blockbuster ratings. While the show has performed disproportionately well demographically in its highly competitive 8 p.m. Sunday slot, after strong initial sampling for its Sept. 12 premiere the show has averaged a 10.9 rating/ 16 share in Nielsen season-to-date, trailing ABC’s “Lois & Clark: The New Adventures of Superman” in three of their last four head-to-head airings.

Amblin has strong feature ties to both WB and Universal, and the three ended up as partners on the ill-fated CBS animated primetime series “Family Dog.”

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