Minis, biopix are wrapped for sweeps

Prestige projects await November premiere dates

The networks are combining high-end casting with a slew of biographies to make the names on this season’s movie and mini marquee some of the biggest and brightest ever.

In an attempt to make their longform projects stand out in an increasingly cluttered TV universe, the movie departments of ABC, CBS and NBC are loading up on top-drawer actors. Among those skedded to appear in either miniseries or telepics are Sidney Poitier, Elizabeth Taylor, Martin Landau, Julie Andrews, Ving Rhames and Holly Hunter.

And in something of a reversal from recent years’ projects that were heavy on special effects, this year’s crop includes more personal tales. Biopics this season will shed some light on the lives of, among others, Judy Garland and Shirley Temple on ABC, Jacqueline Kennedy and Marilyn Monroe on CBS, and John Lennon and Natalie Cole on NBC.

The “CBS Sunday Movie,” the most watched pic night again last season, is sticking with a good thing.

“We’re going again with what our audience responds to, which are high-quality adult dramas with high-end casting,” says Eye movies and minis topper Sunta Izzicupo. “These are traditional, character-driven pieces that are good stories.”

The CBS telefilm slate includes Poitier as “The Last Bricklayer in America”; Patty Duke as a 50-year-old businesswoman who learns she’s pregnant in “Love Lessons”; and Julie Andrews in a live rendition of “On Golden Pond.”

On the mini side, net’s offerings include “Jacqueline Bouvier Kennedy Onassis,” with Joanne Whalley in the title role (Nov. 5 and 8); “Blonde,” starring Poppy Montgomery as Marilyn Monroe; “American Tragedy,” the behind-the-scenes story of O.J. Simpson’s defense team starring Bruno Kirby and Rhames (November); “Jack and the Beanstalk,” from Jim Henson Prods.; and “Haven,” a true Holocaust story starring Natasha Richardson and Anne Bancroft.

ABC is going with high-concept, femme-driven pics for its Monday movies from January through May (inheriting “Monday Night Football’s” slot.)

Lineup includes a three-hour musical remake of “South Pacific,” starring Glenn Close; Judy Davis as Judy Garland in “Me and My Shadows,” based on Lorna Luft’s book; Hunter as Billie Jean King in “Battle of the Sexes”; and Elizabeth Taylor joining Shirley MacLaine, Debbie Reynolds and Joan Collins in “Those Old Broads,” written by Carrie Fisher.

“We look for things that pop,” says ABC movies and minis chief Susan Lyne. “We’ve learned that by January, most viewers have decided what they like to watch on Monday, so we need something intriguing or different enough to take them away from those shows.”

The net’s Sunday “Wonderful World of Disney” pics this year will include more movies that both kids and adults can watch. Titles include “The Shirley Temple Story,” a “Growing Pains” reunion pic and a retelling of “The Miracle Worker,” set for November, with Alison Elliott as Annie Sullivan.

The Alphabet’s only mini skedded for this season is “Widows,” starring Mercedes Ruehl, Rosie Perez and Brooke Shields as women who attempt to finish an art heist that resulted in the deaths of their husbands.

NBC, under first-year movies-minis topper Steve White, is leaning heavily on miniseries, beginning with November’s biblical “In the Beginning,” starring Martin Landau and Jacqueline Bisset.

Others include “Jackie, Ethel, Joan: The Women of Camelot,” set for February; “The Monkey King,” another Robert Halmi Sr.-Hallmark fantasy, starring Thomas Gibson; and May’s “First to Die,” from the upcoming James Patterson novel.

Telepics include the Cole bio for November, starring the singer, and “In His Life: The John Lennon Story,” tapped for December.

Fox is back in the made-for biz with a few pics, including “The O.Z.,” a hip-hop take on “The Wizard of Oz,” starring Queen Latifah and Little Richard.

Some of the season’s big cable projects include: Sally Field and Michael Richards in TNT’s adaptation of “David Copperfield” (December); a two-part “Hamlet,” starring Campbell Scott and Blair Brown, for Odyssey; Bravo’s mini “Balzac: A Life of Passion,” starring Gerard Depardieu (October); HBO’s “Band of Brothers,” a 10-part mini about a renowned World War II U.S. Army unit; and Showtime’s “The House of Mirth,” with Gillian Anderson, Anthony LaPaglia and Eric Stoltz.

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