New Line pacts with Southern Star on pilot

SYDNEY — New Line Television is making its first foray into Australian drama production with “Chopsocky,” a telepic pilot for a long-running series, in association with Oz major Southern Star.

The made-for pilot quietly went into production in Sydney this week.

“Melrose Place” thesp Thomas Calabro is thought to be toplining the project.

According to a notice issued by Southern Star to the Australian Stock Exchange, the show will be produced by Southern Star’s John Edwards and penned by Steve Worland (“Bootmen”). Southern Star refused to comment and wouldn’t confirm the Oz broadcaster would be CanWest-backed Network Ten.

Ten tightens belt

Rescued about 10 years ago from the brink of fiscal disaster by CanWest, Ten is now profitable after pursuing a low-cost programming strategy, but recently shifted gears by poaching Sue Masters from coin-challenged pubcaster ABC to head its drama department. At ABC, Masters commissioned hit Granada series “Seachange,” and Ten recently has commissioned sitcom “Sit Down Shut Up” and miniseries “My Brother Jack” from Granada’s Oz offshoot Red Heart.

No longer able to rely on foreign sales revenues to cover deficit-financed dramas owing to sagging European demand for imported independent drama, Oz producer-distribs are relying more than ever on co-production partners and commissioning networks overseas.

The New Line deal is the latest example of the new business model at Southern Star, which slashed staffing by 27% and is avoiding taking major fiscal risks on its dramas as pretax profits fell 30% to A$8 million ($4.5 million) after $25 million of asset writedowns and restructuring charges.

Last month, Britain’s Channel 4 commissioned its first long-running Oz drama, “The Secret Life of Us,” from Southern Star, which will produce the $5.4 million 22-hour series for the U.K. broadcaster with Ten and Cable & Wireless’ Oz feevee operator Optus.

Aussie export

At the same time, U.K. satcaster BSkyB commissioned its first Oz mini-series, the $4.8 million “Rubicon,” which Southern Star is producing with the U.K.’s Warner Sisters and Kerry Stokes’ Oz web Seven.

Southern Star rival Beyond, which recently provided for $4.7 million in asset writedowns as TV and film program sales revenue fell 30% to $16 million, co-finances many of its drama series via a $32 million pact with Germany’s MBP.

Likewise, Becker Entertainment, which recently made asset writedowns of $7 million, has sealed a three-year production pact with Germany’s Fame subsid MBM.

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