BET backs pic pack

Cable net, Campanella set 10 films

NEW YORK — Black Entertainment Television has signed a 10-picture deal with producer Roy Campanella Jr. to produce TV films for BET’s cable webs.

The deal is expected to be announced today or Tuesday.

BET Holdings chairman Robert Johnson, whose company has produced little original programming in the past, recently said he would commit $100 million to produce low-budget theatrical films as well as a number of made-for-cable movies.

The 10 films in Campanella’s deal — the first production deal BET has cut — will be budgeted at less than $2 million each. The films will all be based on books from the Arabesque Romances series, for which Johnson recently purchased the film production rights.

Campanella, the son of the late Brooklyn Dodgers catcher Roy Campanella, intends to play up the dramatic and comedic elements of the Arabesque books, in the hope of attracting an audience beyond romance fans.

Campanella could not be reached for comment. However, the veteran producer detailed his plans to the Directors Guild of America’s steering committee on Saturday.

Revealing his 10-film BET deal to the panel before going public with his plans, Campanella is hoping to enlist the committee’s support, which will help smooth the way to cast and produce the movies.

“This presents a unique opportunity to put a spotlight on contemporary women,” said a source close to the committee, who added that Campanella received a round of applause after his presentation. “This can take us beyond acrimony and bitterness and move us into a position to solve our employment problems and do so with films with an independent voice.”

Campanella, who heads Directors Circle Filmworks, plans to produce all 10 movies in Los Angeles. The first film will begin production in early 1999 and premiere in the fall of 1999.

The pictures will make their debut on BET Movies, a fairly new premium movie services targeting black viewers. The network, which has about 3 million subscribers, is half-owned by Liberty Media’s Encore Media Corp. and is marketed under the Starz! movie channel.

After premiering on the commercial-free BET Movies, the films will run on the 10.5 million-subscriber BET Action Pay Per View and then on the 54 million-sub BET.

Johnson believes that original movies are the best way for BET to grow its revenue.

Johnson has said that it will be difficult for BET to significantly raise its license fee to cable and satellite operators (Variety, Aug. 1), and the best way to increase revenues will be to boost ad sales. Johnson is betting that original films will increase ratings and enable BET to charge higher ad rates.

Campanella won a DGA award for “Brother Future,” a 1992 film about an inner-city youth who travels back in time to 1822. The director was nominated for a DGA award in 1993 for his work on an episode of the TV series “I’ll Fly Away.”

Campanella is expected to helm at least one of the 10 BET films.

Campanella has a miniseries called “All God’s Children” in development for ABC and another miniseries in development for Showtime entitled “Harlem.”

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