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ZDF TO PUMP ‘CONAN’

Will co-produce TV series with L.A. prod'n co.

BERLIN – German pubcaster ZDF said Tuesday that it has signed an agreement with Los Angeles-based production company Keller Entertainment Group Inc. to co-produce 22 one-hour episodes of the action series “Conan the Adventurer,” which will begin filming in Mexico and Rumania in the spring.

“Conan” will star bodybuilder Ralf Moeller, 35, the first German actor to play the lead in an American series. Moeller will take on the role created by Arnold Schwarzenegger in the “Conan” films of the ’80s.

“Bringing in Ralf Moeller was a condition of our getting involved in the project,” said Horst Mueller, VP of North American operations of ZDF Enterprises, who negotiated the deal. “Having an attractive German star will be instrumental in promoting it throughout the German territories.”

Moeller, a former Mr. Universe, has appeared in feature films “Universal Soldier” and “Viking Saga,” and will be seen alongside Schwarzenegger in “Batman and Robin” and in the next Conan movie, due out in 1998.

Cord Douglas of Keller Entertainment told Daily Variety that a French network is likely to get involved in the series as well. Keller Entertainment, which has a relationship with Balenciaga Prods. in Paris, has created a niche for itself by co-producing series such as “Tarzan” and “Acapulco H.E.A.T.” with Euro partners.

“It’s hard for a smaller American production company to compete with the big studios for the few spots available to non-European product in Europe,” said Douglas. “So we get past the European quotas for native programming by getting Europeans involved in the production.”

Despite the Mexican location, a French and a British actor appear in “Acapulco H.E.A.T.,” and much of the production crew is European.

Keller Entertainment’s next project will be an “X-Files”- style series set in the southwestern U.S. It may also have European partners.

For a web with a conservative reputation like ZDF, involvement in “Conan” is a means of competing with private networks in reaching a younger demographic group. At the same time, ZDF wants its co-productions to have a Teutonic touch. The pubcaster is currently cooperating with NBC and Peter Engel Prods. to produce “U.S.A. High.” The series will be set in an American high school in Paris, and its stars will include a young German actor.

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