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Plot gets thicker at Storyline

Deal includes renewal of telepic prod'n, first-look for features

Craig Zadan and Neil Meron’s Storyline Entertainment is expanding its Mouse House roots.

The production banner behind hits such as “Annie” and “Cinderella” has inked a wide-ranging, two-year overall deal with Disney covering telepics, series, feature films and stage productions. Among the specific components of the deal:

  • An exclusive arrangement to create, develop and produce half-hour and hourlong series via ABC’s Touchstone Television;

  • A renewal of Storyline’s existing deal to produce telepics for “The Wonderful World of Disney”;

  • A first-look provision that gives Disney and Touchstone Films dibs on Storyline’s feature output. A similar first-look deal applies to stage productions.

Storyline’s “Me and My Shadows: Life With Judy Garland” is up for 13 Emmy noms Sunday, more than any other telepic — bringing the company’s total Emmy-nom tally to 53.

“(Disney boasts) a wonderful family of creative people that has been a joy and will be a joy to collaborate with,” Meron said. “They’re inventive, smart, creative and they know a good idea when they hear one.”

Knox tapped

In conjunction with the deal, Storyline has tapped Travis Knox to serve as director of feature development, while Matthew Murray has been named director of production for features and television. Storyline VP of movies and minis Dave Mace is taking on additional responsibilities to head up the company’s move into series television.

According to Meron, Storyline has made getting a series on the air one of its major goals in the coming year.

“With less TV movies being made these days, it gives us the freedom to focus on expanding ourselves into different arenas,” he said.

Touchstone TV prexy Steve McPherson said he’s counting on Zadan and Meron to duplicate their longform track record in the half-hour and hour-long world.

“We’re hoping they’ll be able to translate their success in the movies and minis arena into the series arena,” McPherson said.

Storyline already has a number of series projects in the works, including “Black Book,” which the producers, along with Greenblatt-Janollari Studio, sold to Fox last year. A new version of “Black Book,” which is based on the series of young adult novels, has now been set up at ABC (along with G-J, Regency TV and Touchstone TV).

Company’s previous pact with Touchstone also included a feature component. Although the producers focused most of their energy in recent years on the small screen, Buena Vista Motion Pictures Group president Nina Jacobson said she’s anxious to develop a slew of features with the duo. Storyline’s feature mandate includes bringing a musical to the big screen.

“They’ve been very productive for the TV branch of the studio, and incredibly productive and profitable for ABC,” Jacobson said. “I think the world of them as feature producers as well. They’re smart and passionate.”

Telepix still strong

As for the duo’s bread and butter, Storyline continues to boast a heavy load of telepics in development at ABC. That includes “Footloose,” “Fiddler on the Roof,” “Mame,” “Grease” and “The Music Man.”

“They’ve been great partners for us in so many levels,” said ABC longform chief Susan Lyne. “They’ve been able to reach an enormous number of people with material you couldn’t do at a studio right now.”

Meanwhile, Zadan and Meron are exec producers on Miramax’s upcoming bigscreen take on hit tuner “Chicago.” Marty Richards and Harvey Weinstein are producing. Storyline first jumped into the telepic biz with the Emmy-nominated Bette Midler vehicle “Gypsy.” That was quickly followed by a slew of projects including “Serving in Silence: The Margarethe Cammermeyer Story,” the Emmy-nominated “The Beach Boys: An American Family” miniseries, “The Three Stooges,” “Cinderella” and “What Makes a Family.”

Storyline previously signed multiyear deals with Disney and Columbia TriStar Television in 1999.

Deal was brokered by WMA.

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