‘Apollo’ Trio In HBO Series Deal

The team behind Universal Pictures’ critical and box office smash “Apollo 13” are off to the moon again, this time with HBO.

Tom Hanks and Imagine Entertainment’s Brian Grazer and Ron Howard are joining with Home Box Office to produce a 13-episode special on the Apollo space program, based on an idea by Hanks. The estimated budget for the entire production of “From the Earth to the Moon” is $26 million, or about $2 million per episode.

HBO original programming president Chris Albrecht said the project will mark an unprecedented effort for his division, but would not comment specifically on budgets. HBO is financing the entire project.

The filmmakers are talking to A-list talent to write and direct each segment.

Imagine and HBO together optioned the Andrew Chaikin book “A Man on the Moon” and will use that as a guide in preparing 13 one-hour docudramas, which are scheduled to begin production in late 1996 for a 1997 run, to air in conjunction with the 25th anniversary of the successful completion of the Apollo space project.

The deal is considered a coup for Albrecht. Bridget Potter, formerly senior VP of original programming at HBO and Albrecht’s former boss, is co-exec producer on the series.

Hanks, who is currently in production on 20th Century Fox’s “That Thing You Do, ” which marks his feature film directorial debut, said the series will re-create stories surrounding Apollo 1 through 17 and also will explore the Soviet Union space program.

“There is so much more to tell about the space program,” Hanks said. “In the course of working on (the film), I found out that there are truly amazing things that happened during the Apollo project that the public has not heard and is unaware of. I was looking for a format that could encompass the decade or so that surrounded the Apollo project and you can’t do it in a two-hour film. I also didn’t see this for broadcast because of the commercial interruptions.

Lofty goals

“We want to be as accurate as possible to the facts, but also tell compelling stories,” Hanks said.

Hanks said he wasn’t sure if he would direct one of the episodes, and that it would depend on his schedule.

“This is the biggest thing we’ve ever gotten involved in,” Albrecht said. “I think the film was an introductory history lesson for the audience, and it was incredibly exciting to see how the country accepted this film. It showed that much of America is interested in the space program. Hanks came in and pitched this idea himself. He had everything all figured out. It was very impressive.”

HBO VP of original programming Anne Thomopoulos will be the executive on the project.

“Apollo 13′ served as a catalyst for Tom to explore his passion with the space program. This was Tom’s idea,” said Grazer. “Hanks really chairs the meetings on this project with great authority. He knows so much about the space program.”

“Each hour will play as a unique and self-contained film,” said senior VP of motion pictures Michael Bostick, whose father Jerry worked in mission control at NASA and was a consultant on “Apollo 13.” “We expect that different directors and writers will have their own take creatively on this.”

Producing credits still are being worked out, but it will likely be an HBO/Imagine Entertainment presentation with Hanks executive producing. Hanks is repped by Creative Artists Agency’s Richard Lovett.

Joe Flint contributed to this report.

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