Picker’s Hallmark moment

In what could signal new directions for Hallmark Entertainment, the company has lured veteran theatrical producer David Picker to its fold and charged him with bringing movie talent aboard to enhance the Hallmark brand.

In July, Picker was tapped president of Hallmark Entertainment Prods., a wholly-owned subsidiary of the privately-held greeting card conglomerate, and will oversee the development and production of the company’s big event miniseries, two-hour movies, kids adventure series and animated projects. Picker says that finding ways to get the company involved in the feature film business is also “on the agenda.”

Upcoming small-screen projects that Picker is already getting his arms around are reprises of Herman Melville’s “Moby Dick” with Patrick Stewart and Gregory Peck; and “Mysterious Passions,” a mini about the Arthurian legend. He’s also developing more modern material like a remake of George Orwell’s “Animal Farm” and a drama based on the bestseller “Rising Tide,” about the repercussions of the 1927 Mississippi River flood.

Picker is old friends with Robert Halmi Sr., the chairman of Hallmark Entertainment and man who spearheaded classic minis and TV movies like “Gulliver’s Travel’s” and “The Odyssey.” Halmi’s RHI was bought for some $350 million three years ago by Hallmark. (The parent company had annual consolidated net sales of some $3.4 billion in 1996.)

Although a former production head at Columbia, Paramount and United Artists, Picker told Variety that the current movie studio system allows less and less for classic, content-driven kinds of dramas. The theatrical business of the 90’s, he says, is mostly star-driven or marketing-driven and is impatient with character and story-driven projects.

“Halmi, on the other hand, does the most extraordinary event TV. It’s enormously challenging, and the demand for the kind of product we do just keeps growing,” Picker says.

Picker points to film talent like John Schlesinger and Jonathan Kaplan whom he’s wooing to work on projects for Hallmark. He also has high hopes for Hallmark’s Crayola Kids Adventure series, remakes of classic material like “20 Thousand Leagues Under the Sea” and “The Trojan Horse,” where the leads are played by kids.

Picker is also spearheading the “Millennium” documentary project Hallmark is preparing at ABC. TNT has ordered a remake of Charles Dickens’ “David Copperfield,” while USA Network has commissioned “Animal Farm.”

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