Inside Moves

No monkey biz at UPN

The 600-pound gorillas at Fox have apparently stopped “Spawn” creator Todd McFarlane from aping one of the studio’s classic franchises.

McFarlane and UPN last month sealed plans to develop “Gorilla World,” a new take on talking chimps inspired by the “Planet of the Apes” movies (Daily Variety, Jan. 14).

Twentieth Century Fox lawyers decided it sounded a little too similar to the studio’s “Apes” franchise, and quickly sent a cease-and-desist letter to the network.

The studio was apparently upset by McFarlane’s contention that the studio didn’t hold a monopoly on projects about talking apes.

“When was Fox granted the rights to be the only people who talked about Darwin?” McFarlane said when announcing the project.

Soon after, Fox announced plans to revive “Apes” on the bigscreen with Tim Burton.

UPN says “Gorilla World” was scrapped for reasons unrelated to the Fox letter, but that the network hopes to develop another project with McFarlane for next midseason.

McFarlane said Fox had no room to be upset, arguing that the company’s broadcast network developed “Greed” by monkeying with “Who Wants to Be a Millionaire.”

“It’s always amazing when the thieves call the other thieves thieves,” he said. “There are no big original ideas.”

Meanwhile, the fiercely independent McFarlane, who last week pacted with Jodie Foster’s Egg Pictures to animate parts of the feature “The Dangerous Lives of Altar Boys” and won the Grammy for co-directing Korn’s “Freak on a Leash” video, said he will forgo representation altogether after deciding he preferred to seal most of his deals independently.

McFarlane signed with Endeavor six to eight months ago, but continued to go around and strike deals on his own. McFarlane said he didn’t want to share the standard 10% in deals he acquired under his own volition, and the two sides parted ways.

“I dig the hole, I get paid for digging the hole,” said McFarlane, who had gone without representation until signing with Endeavor. “I’ve been doing OK without any agents anyway. There’s not really any rocket science there.”

McFarlane said he probably won’t seek any other representation in the near future.

“There’s still a piece of me that says, ‘Am I just a pain in the ass or am I not right for this city?'” he said. “I guess it’s an odd thing to ask, that I’ll cut deals on my own and you bring ones from outside.”

— Michael Schneider

Dornemann plate holds music only

Now that Michael Dornemann has relinquished his duties as head of Bertelsmann’s film and TV divisions to concentrate on the company’s music operations at BMG Entertainment, all eyes are focussed on his relationship with his number two, BMG Entertainment prexy-CEO Strauss Zelnick.

Dornemann’s recent public spankings of Zelnick, over dealings with Arista Records honcho Clive Davis and Jive topper Clive Calder have led to wide speculation that Zelnick and Dornemann were engaged in a nasty struggle for exec primacy.

But BMG spokesperson Keith Estabrook told Daily Variety, “Michael Dornemann’s change to focus more on the global expansion of the music group is part of a wider Bertelsmann corporate restructuring, and in no way does this move have any relationship to past conflicts. Michael and Strauss Zelnick have a wonderful working relationship and will continue to work closely together to achieve our global expansion via music and the Internet.”

Dornemann’s increased focus on music could be seen as a critique of Zelnick’s leadership of that domain. After all, Dornemann is still involved in the ongoing negotiations with Davis, whose contract expires in June.

However, insiders point to Zelnick’s film background as prexy-chief operating officer at 20th Century-Fox as an indication that the music exec could fill the exec gap left by Dornemann’s shifting of duties.

Meanwhile, the recent departure of BMG Intl. prexy-CEO Rudi Gassner, has left Zelnick — the person to whom Davis reports — with much more on his plate, just as Dornemann is slimming down on his Bertelsmann duties.

— Don Waller

PGA gavel OKs ‘Judging Amy’ pair

A Producers Guild of America appeals board has reinstated Golden Laurel nominations for actress Amy Brenneman and Connie Tavel on “Judging Amy,” a week after excluding the pair as part of its campaign to tighten credit standards.

The decision will allow Brenneman and Tavel to join Barbara Hall and Joseph Stern on stage Thursday at the PGA Awards ceremonies in Los Angeles should they win the honor for best television series.

The pair had appealed the exclusion, which was based on determinations of not having been “primarily responsible” as producers, along with a PGA policy to limit the number of producers per show to three with an established team counted as a single producer. In all, the PGA pulled 21 names from producer credits for the nominations.

Another unidentified producer appealed, but the PGA’s exclusion was upheld.

— Dave McNary

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