Turner will bankroll Frog net prod’n pad

Daniels to head inhouse unit

In a bid to increase program diversity and maintain tighter control of its own fate, WB Network parent Turner Broadcasting will launch a super-charged inhouse production unit headed by former programming prexy Susanne Daniels.

New arm — which already has at least a half-dozen scripts in the hopper — will fall under the control of Turner topper-WB founder Jamie Kellner and exec VP Garth Ancier. Turner will foot the bill for the studio’s budget.

In a departure from the WB’s old Michigan J. Frog inhouse development arm, the new division will deficit finance some of its productions. Company is also expected to make a limited number of overall deals.

Most of the studio’s projects will be developed for the WB, though it’s likely some projects will end up on other nets. Warner Bros. Television will have off-net distribution rights and may also supply studio space. Some projects could end up as co-productions with WBTV as well.

In addition, Michigan J. will continue to exist under entertainment prexy Jordan Levin as a separate in-house development unit based at the WB. Some of the projects developed by this unit will be self-financed by Turner, and not under the aegis of Daniels.

Daniels ankled her prexy post earlier this year, intending to start her own production company within the AOL Time Warner fold (Daily Variety, June 10). While the new venture was never formally announced, Daniels and top lieutenant Kate Juergens had begun setting up various projects for the WB’s fall 2002 development slate with the understanding that at least one comedy and one drama pilot would be produced.

Early thinking was that the Daniels company would be based at Warner Bros. TV, but that plan has been scrapped in favor of the new Turner-based company.

Decision comes in the wake of the collapse of two prominent indie suppliers of primetime programming: Columbia TriStar Television and Artists Television Group. The WB has also stopped developing programs with 20th Century Fox TV this season.

WB insiders said pumping up the net’s inhouse studio is designed to ensure another strong source of potential programming for the Frog — independent from the larger studio structure of WBTV. The WB has had a good record of developing projects in-house (think “Gilmore Girls,” “Buffy the Vampire Slayer”); in the past, however, net has always had to lay off projects with an outside studio.

“This gives us a new supplier,” one Turner insider said, while allowing the WB to better “control our own destiny.”

Execs at the WB and Turner (which both report to Kellner) have also been struggling to come to an agreement with WBTV over repurposing rights to WBTV-produced programs that air on the WB Network.

Kellner has been a vocal champion of multiplexing series on both the Frog and Turner’s cable nets. Spelling-produced “Charmed,” for instance, is now airing on both the WB and TNT, with no sign that the show’s Frog ratings have been hurt.

Multiplex flexibility

WBTV execs are open to repurposing, but so far, the two sides have what’s being called a “friendly disagreement” about the financial model necessary to make repurposing work. As a result, Frog execs want the ability to produce some programs inhouse, ensuring total multiplex flexibility.

While the Daniels-led company won’t be based at WBTV, insiders said the Frog still maintains “excellent” relations with the Peter Roth-topped studio. Indeed, some of the WB’s biggest fall 2002 contenders — a new take on “The Wizard of Oz” and an update of the “Tarzan” legend — are both based at WBTV.

Roth’s studio also supplied the WB with what’s shaping up to be one of the net’s biggest-ever hits: “Smallville.”

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