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Showtime taps Dimension

NEW YORK — Showtime, which has suffered in the last year or so from a sparse inventory of exclusive theatrical pictures, has bought pay-cable rights to the movies released by Miramax’s Dimension Pictures through the end of 2002.

The Dimension titles, which include “Mimic” and the forthcoming “Scream 2,” were the biggest yield in a larger overall deal between Showtime and Miramax’s parent, Walt Disney Co. The deal includes up to 40 Miramax pictures released in 1996, some of which will make their pay TV debut on Showtime and some on Showtime’s sister network, the Sundance Channel.

The pay TV rights to Dimension’s pictures, which were originally licensed by Disney’s Buena Vista TV to John Malone’s Encore/Starz through 2002 by virtue of an output deal negotiated three years ago, became available to Showtime because “we didn’t feel comfortable playing some of the Dimension titles for content reasons,” said Stephan Shelanski, VP of program acquisitions for the Encore Entertainment Group.

Shelanski says Starz ended up playing hard-action pictures like “From Dusk Till Dawn” at 10 p.m. and later because of the stated commitment of John Sie, chairman and CEO of Encore Media Corp., to focus whenever possible on scheduling movies suitable for the entire family.

But Starz has carved out an exception, Shelanski continued, for any future movies Jackie Chan makes for Dimension, as well as any sequels Dimension makes to “Rambo” and “Total Recall,” two movie franchises Miramax bought from Carolco.

The 1996 Miramax pictures came Showtime’s way, said Matthew Duda, executive VP of program acquisitions and planning for the Showtime Networks, because “Miramax releases a lot more movies than Starz is obligated to take.”

Shelanski confirms that Starz’s output deal with Miramax covers only the 15 highest-grossing pictures the company puts out in a given year. In 1996, Miramax released more than 50 movies.

Dalton Delan, executive VP of programming and creative director of the Sundance Channel, said the network’s pickup of the Miramax titles represent “the biggest deal we’ve ever done.”

Pay networks buy a movie on a sliding scale, sources said, based strictly on its domestic box office gross. One industry rule of thumb is that the network ponies up about one-tenth of the final gross. Since most of the Miramax titles going to Showtime and Sundance grossed in the low-seven figures or less, the networks will pay an average price in the low-six figures, the sources said.

Among the Miramax pictures going to Showtime are “Swingers,” “Basquiat,” “Things To Do in Denver When You’re Dead,” “Cry, the Beloved Country,” Al Pacino’s “Two Bits,” “Citizen Ruth” and “Unhook the Stars.”

Sundance will get the following Miramax movies, among others: “Walking & Talking,” “Georgia” (Jennifer Jason Leigh), “Dead Man” (Johnny Depp), “Ridicule,” “French Twist,” “The Horseman on the Roof” and “Chungking Express.”

In a separate development, worldwide independent film distributor Overseas Filmgroup co-chairman and co-CEO Robert B. Little announced Monday that the company has completed a sale of six movies exclusive to Showtime.

Movies in that six-film package include “Infinity” (starring Matthew Broderick and Patricia Arquette and directed by Broderick), “The Designated Mourner” (starring Mike Nichols and Miranda Richardson), “The Big Squeeze” (featuring Lara Flynn Boyle), “A Brother’s Kiss” (with Rosie Perez, Nick Chinlund and Mike Raynor), “Johns” (starring Lukas Haas and David Arquette) and “Shameless” (starring Elizabeth Hurley).

No terms of the Overseas deal were disclosed.

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