TNT ups DeBitetto

Exec named 1st prexy of original programming

NEW YORK — TNT, pushing hard to become the ad-supported cable network delivering the most prestigious original movies, miniseries and weekly series, has named its first-ever prez of original programming, Robert DeBitetto.

DeBitetto, promoted from exec VP for TNT Originals, says he plans to continue spearheading the production of fresh programming to add to the network’s menu of high-visibility sports like NBA basketball and Wimbledon tennis, recognizable off-network series such as “ER” and “Law & Order” and theatrical movies like “Conspiracy Theory” that are getting their network premieres 30 months after they bow in the multiplexes.

TNT’s goal, DeBitetto said, is to schedule eight or nine original movies a year, one or two miniseries and at least a couple of firstrun hourlong drama series, plus assorted additional two-hour originals such as backdoor pilots for series.

DeBitetto declined to discuss production costs, but only HBO spends more money on an average movie or miniseries than TNT, according to sources. The typical TNT movie costs $8 million-$10 million, although an elaborate historical epic like “The Hunley,” set during the Civil War, racked up a budget of $16 million.

A four-hour TNT miniseries will range between $12 million and $14 million, although special-effects-laden productions like those of Robert Halmi Sr. can soar above the $20 million mark. “The Mists of Avalon,” the four-hour mini from TNT sister company Warner Bros. that’s now in pre-production in Eastern Europe, is budgeted at more than $20 million, according to one source.

One area that DeBitetto expects to ramp up is original-series production. TNT has commissioned Warner Bros. TV to produce 13 hourlong episodes of “Bull,” a drama focusing on Wall Street investment bankers and traders, which bows this summer. DeBitetto says a number of other scripts for hourlong pilots are in development.

Chain of command

DeBitetto will continue to report to Brad Siegel, president of Turner Broadcasting System’s general-entertainment networks. Julie Weitz, TNT’s exec VP of original programming, who used to report to Siegel, will now be reporting to DeBitetto.

But “this is in no way a demotion for Julie,” DeBitetto said. “She’ll continue to be our head of creative development.”

Before joining Turner in October 1995 as senior VP of the Turner Pictures Group, DeBitetto, an attorney, was senior VP of Walt Disney’s motion picture group, working with Miramax, Cinergi and Interscope Pictures. He also oversaw operations for Disney’s legitimate-theater division, which produced “Beauty and the Beast” on Broadway during his tenure.

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