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Jersey Films to set TV division at 20th

Pact is latest in crossover series

Danny DeVito’s Jersey Films, the company behind “Pulp Fiction,” “Get Shorty” and “Out of Sight,” has inked a deal to create a Jersey Television banner housed at 20th Century Fox TV.

While Jersey Films has produced an HBO movie, some sports specials and has dipped its toes into syndication development, the pact with 20th is the company’s first aggressive and organized foray into the TV business.

Under terms of the seven-figure deal, which lasts two years with an option for a third, 20th will pay the company’s overhead and Jersey will have a discretionary fund to make some writer/producer deals.

Jersey plans to hire an experienced TV executive to run the new division with an eye toward pairing Jersey’s feature writers, directors, producers and actors with 20th Century Fox’s roster of experienced TV show-runners. Jersey Television’s primary focus will be the creation of series for network TV.

“If these guys can deliver a TV series as distinctive and entertaining as ‘Get Shorty,’ we’ll be thrilled,” said Sandy Grushow, president of 20th Century Fox TV, who shepherded the deal. “If you look at their films, you see a bunch of properties with truly unique and quirky voices, and TV in my estimation is about interesting characters.”

Jersey talent already exploring TV projects include Steven Soderbergh, who directed “Out of Sight”; Richard LaGravenese, who wrote the screenplays for “The Horse Whisperer,” “The Mirror Has Two Faces” and “The Bridges of Madison County”; and Scott Frank, who wrote screenplays for “Get Shorty,” “Little Man Tate,” “Malice” and “Out of Sight.”

Latest crossover deal

The 20th deal with Jersey marks the latest in a slew of TV-film crossover deals. As the talent pool in TV dries up, networks and studios are turning more and more to filmmakers, who also are expressing a greater interest in TV as a medium than ever before.

“I think TV needs new ideas, and the people we work with have ideas for TV,” said Stacey Sher, who is a partner and co-chairman of Jersey Films, along with DeVito and Michael Shamberg.

Jersey has a film deal with Universal, which runs through 2001, and a music deal with MCA. Jersey is the second company (the other being Imagine) with a film deal at Universal to take the unusual step of making a TV deal elsewhere.

The decision was partly motivated by the fact that Universal no longer has a TV division after its recent sale of TV assets to Barry Diller. Jersey executives also say 20th Century Fox had the vision and resources they wanted to succeed in the TV world.

“These guys are on the same wavelength with us,” Shamberg said. “We share a sensibility with them.”

In the past, TV deals with filmmakers often have been vanity deals, but with the recent TV successes of feature writers such as Kevin Williamson (“Dawson’s Creek”) and Joss Whedon (“Buffy the Vampire Slayer”), networks and studios are hoping the newer deals will pack some real punch.

“Danny DeVito has tremendous experience in TV,” said Grushow, referring to DeVito’s starring role in the sitcom “Taxi.” “That’s where he originally made his mark.”

The Jersey-20th deal was brokered by CAA.

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