D’Works TV gets busy

Small screen arm ready to reel

With pilot season ready to kick into high gear, DreamWorks Television has put together what easily ranks as its most active development slate yet.

Heretofore known chiefly as the home of the hit laffer “Spin City,” the small screen unit of the indie studio, headed by former Fox exec Dan McDermott, is now firing on all cylinders, lining up production commitments for the 2000-01 season from all of the Big Six webs, save for UPN. In addition, more than a half dozen scripts are awaiting greenlights at ABC, CBS and NBC.

“There are no easy wins in this game, no guarantees, but going into the selling season, I can’t imagine any company could ask for their television group to deliver more than Dan and his team have,” DreamWorks principal Jeffrey Katzenberg told Daily Variety.

Quality is goal

But while DreamWorks TV has dramatically stepped up its development pace, the company is still staying out of the volume game. There are no illusions that when studio scorecards are tallied in May, DreamWorks will be near the top of the list of most prolific producers.

“We’re a content-driven company,” McDermott said. “I don’t have a benchmark I have to hit … We should produce an amount of (programming) directly proportional to what we’re passionate about and what we can produce of high quality.

“If I can do that, then commercial success will follow,” he added.

New projects announced

Among the previously unannounced projects with firm production commitments:

  • A half-hour single camera comedy for ABC starring comic Denis Leary as a plain-clothes Gotham police detective. Leary is exec producing the pilot with Peter Tolan (“The Larry Sanders Show”), Jim Serpico and Lauren Coarrao;

  • A half-hour comedy pilot from exec producers Judd Apatow (“Freaks and Geeks”) and Tom Brady. Skein, which has a production commitment from CBS, will be about three ex-athletes who run a sports bar;

  • A sitcom starring standup Duane Martin, which has a pilot commitment from CBS.

DreamWorks late last month also quietly taped a half-hour comedy pilot for CBS with exec producers Michael Borkow (“Friends”) and Jay Daniel (“Roseanne.”) Set in a Gotham public defender’s office, the skein stars Dylan Walsh, Eric Schaeffer, Lisa Edelstein and Michael McKean.

Previously reported commitments at DreamWorks include:

  • A 13-seg order from NBC for “Semper Fi,” an hourlong military drama to be exec produced by Steven Spielberg with Michael Watkins (“The X-Files”);

  • Fox Broadcasting’s six-seg order for a half-hour comedy from former “Seinfeld” scribes Alec Berg and Jeff Schaffer. Skein has been pushed back to fall 2000;

  • A 13-episode order from the WB for a half-hour comedy to be created by “American Pie”-makers Chris and Paul Weitz. Airdate target is midseason 2000-01 or fall 2001;

  • Thirty-two hours of miniseries programming divided between the 12-hour HBO mini “Band of Brothers,” from Tom Hanks’ Playtone Co., and the mammoth 20-hour alien mini “Taken,” which is being exec produced by Spielberg and Les Bohem for Sci-Fi Channel.

Mixed bag

DreamWorks scripts in various webs’ hoppers include a romantic comedy for NBC from former “Seinfeld” scribe Carol Leifer (NBC); a hip-hop Nancy Drew from Sundance Film Lab alum Attica Locke in association with Apostle Pictures (ABC); a dysfunctional family drama being penned by Douglas Day Stewart (“An Officer and A Gentleman”) and Dylan Justus Stewart (CBS).

Borkow and Daniel are also developing a male relationship laffer for ABC. Other DreamWorks scripts in development at ABC include a comedy from Lisa Schrager (“Getting Jappy With It”) about the world of Gotham flakkery and a family comedy from scribes Bruce Evans and Raynold Giddeon (“Stand By Me,” “Starman”) and supervising producers Harry Thomason and Linda Bloodworth-Thomason.

NBC has also ordered a script for an hourlong comedic drama from Apatow and Mike White (“Dawson’s Creek”) that revolves around a young man (Dash Mihok) who chooses to remain in suburbia with his family rather than seek adventure elsewhere.

The flurry of activity won’t mean much to DreamWorks Television’s bottom line, of course, unless one or two hit series with syndication value emerge.

‘Spin’ matters

So far, “Spin City” has been the studio’s lone monster success — but it’s been an important one.

The ABC laffer enters syndication this fall having fetched an estimated $2.5-$3 million per seg. That’s enough coin to cover all of the studio’s operating costs to date and ensure profitability, according to Katzenberg and McDermott.

Among the DreamWorks skeins currently in production, the Glen Morgan/Jim Wong sci-fi drama “The Others,” which hits NBC next month, could be a particularly lucrative moneymaker for DreamWorks if it succeeds.

Hopes for ‘Freaks’

“Freaks & Geeks,” which settles into its new timeslot tonight at 8 on NBC, has generated some of the best reviews of the season. Its chances for long-terms success, however, aren’t great, though Peacock execs seem passionate about the skein.

As for half-hours, DreamWorks was recently dealt a blow when ABC opted to kill soph laffer “It’s like, you know…” This spring, NBC will try out the Gary David Goldberg (“Spin City”) /Chris Henchy laffer “Battery Park.”

McDermott said success for DreamWorks depends on selling into syndication just a couple of the shows now in production or in the planning stages.

“We’re a small company,” he said. ” I don’t need 20 shows on the air. I just need four or five shows, with two or three headed toward syndication … One show like ‘Spin City’ can have a profound impact on the bottom line of our division.”

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