Odyssey flies with ‘Unicorn’; more originals

P'gramming exclusive minis will increase

The Odyssey Network, whose owners include Hallmark Entertainment and the Jim Henson Co., chalked up more viewers 18-49 with its first-ever miniseries, “Voyage of the Unicorn,” on March 2 and 3 than ever before in the web’s history.

“Unicorn” reps the kind of programming that drew Alan Perris — a veteran of the TV-syndication wars as senior VP of programming for Warner Bros. Domestic and Columbia TriStar TV Distribution — to sign on as senior VP of programming for Odyssey.

Since Hallmark bought a stake in Odyssey in 1998, the network has purchased rerun series like “Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman and “Snowy River” and tapped in to the Hallmark-owned library that includes classic “Hallmark Hall of Fame” TV movies and more recent Robert Halmi-produced minis like “Gulliver’s Travels,” “The Odyssey” and “Merlin.”

More minis

Perris, who will buy, develop and schedule all of Odyssey’s programs, says he plans to commission more exclusive miniseries like “Voyage of the Unicorn,” a Halmi production starring Beau Bridges, and more limited series, such as the two-hour movies starring Matt Frewer as Sherlock Holmes. The second of four Holmes originals, “The Sign of Four,” premieres on Odyssey March 23, following last October’s new adaptation of “The Hound of the Baskervilles.”

In the February sweeps, Odyssey increased its primetime ratings by 50% over those of the previous February, harvesting a 115% primetime increase among adults 25-54. But Odyssey’s audience base is so small that, even with the increases, the network still averages only a 0.3 in primetime.

To jack up the Nielsen ratings, says Perris, the web needs lots and lots of firstrun programming. As he puts it, “We won’t succeed if we’re nothing more than a library channel.”

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