Inside Moves

Zeta-Jones at 'Traffic' corner

Catherine Zeta-Jones (“The Mask of Zorro,” “Entrapment”) is in talks to star in Steven Soderbergh’s newest pic, “Traffic.”

Pic is in turnaround from Fox 2000, and is being produced by Laura Bickford and Bedford Falls partners Ed Zwick and Marshall Herskovitz. Producers are understood to be currently negotiating domestic distribution and financing with at least two Hollywood studios.

Like “Traffik,” the British miniseries on which it is based, Soderbergh’s “Traffic” will attempt to offer a look beyond addiction toward the business and politics of drug trafficking.

Bickford had optioned “Traffik” and given it to Soderbergh. But when she tried to hire its writer, Stephen Gaghan, she found he was at work researching a similar project with Ed Zwick. Seeking to avoid the maddening competition that so often results in a rush to produce the first pic of its kind in the market — pics about deadly asteroids, erupting volcanoes, Martian missions and untreatable, lethal viruses readily come to mind — all agreed to collaborate, averting disaster of another kind.

Zeta-Jones, who appears in the upcoming Disney pic “High Fidelity” opposite John Cusack, is understood to be keenly interested in making the pic, though negotiations have yet to begin in earnest.

Zeta Jones, like Soderbergh, is repped by ICM; Gaghan is repped by UTA.

— Claude Brodesser

Mandalay plays Dahl in ‘End Game’

Mandalay Pictures is in talks with helmer John Dahl (“Rounders”) to helm its new Sean Connery starrer, “End Game.”

Adi Hassock (“The Shadow Conspiracy”) and Stuart Kelban penned the spy actioner. Connery will play an old-fashioned CIA agent who goes on a special undercover assignment to expose illegal arms dealing. Instead, he discovers that he’s been set up to take the fall in a large-scale conspiracy, so he teams up with a new-school counterpart to prove his innocence (Daily Variety, Oct. 6).

Pic will be produced by Jorge Saralegui, who brought it to Mandalay. Exec producers will be Connery and Fountainbridge Films’ Rhonda Tollefson, as well as Hassock.

Dahl is repped by CAA.

— Claude Brodesser

NBC, Intel to back DEN Netcaster

Timed perfectly with this year’s dot-com-heavy Sundance fest and National Assn. of TV Program Execs confab, a slew of Internet players are using the week as a platform to announce their latest rounds of million-dollar financing, with Netcaster Digital Entertainment Network leading the pack today.

NBC and Intel, among several other major media players, are expected to be listed among DEN’s million-dollar backers.

What is unusual is that NBC is investing in a potential rival, considering that DEN produces and broadcasts original series for the young and ‘Net-savvy Gen Y crowd and that the convergence of television and the Internet is just around the corner, positioning DEN as a potential ratings-stealing channel.

The matchup could prove lucrative: Should DEN some day begin to generate profits, NBC would collect a stake. And NBC could also be hedging its bets, pairing up with an online content distributor to stream its own shows that don’t make the airwaves.

NBC already holds stakes in Netcaster Intertainer, VideoSeeker.com, CNBC.com, SnapTV and digital video recorder maker TiVo.

Netcasters IFilm and Intertainer are also planning to report this week.

— Marc Graser and Josef Adalian

UPN shows gloat in ratings success

UPN plans to throw a few grenades at the competition this NATPE.

The network will deploy an army of trucks around New Orleans this week carrying billboards that emphasize fall ratings growth at UPN while pointing out demographic declines at Fox and the WB.

UPN will also take out a series of trade magazine advertisements pushing its message.

“You won’t be able to miss them,” said UPN chief operating officer Adam Ware.

On Tuesday, UPN will park billboards outside the New Orleans Marriott, where the WB is holding its affiliates meeting. The Tuesday ad — featuring the headline “What a Difference a Year Makes!” — touts UPN’s increases among adults 18 to 34, male teens and female teens and points out the WB’s declines in those same demos.

Like last year, UPN won’t hold an affiliates meeting, but executives will be meeting one-on-one with station managers at the Paramount booth. Ware said he hopes to seal early renewals this week with a few affiliates whose contracts are up in 2001 or 2002.

— Michael Schneider

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