Other nets may use public-domain info for own pics

The Walt Disney Co. has locked up a nearly $1.5 million deal for the exclusive book and TV movie rights to the personal stories of the nine Pennsylvania miners whose miraculous rescue riveted the nation last month.

Mouse web ABC will produce a two-hour telepic about the rescue operation, while Disney publishing unit Hyperion is expected to release a book about their ordeal. In addition to the so-called Quecreek Nine, Disney is also making a deal with one of the lead rescuers.

ABC will immediately begin looking for an outside telepic producer and scribe to put together the movie, expected to air during the 2002-03 television season. It’s unclear when Hyperion would publish its book.

An ABC rep declined comment, but industry buzz Friday was rampant that the highest levels of Disney management authorized the amount of coin allocated for the life rights deal. The roughly $1.5 million sum will be split evenly among the miners and the rescuer.

While Disney’s preemptive bid for the miners’ stories gives it a leg up in any potential race to produce a telepic, it doesn’t preclude other nets from jumping in, as well. Because of the extensive news coverage of the event, as well as the miners’ own public comments, a good chunk of the story is in the public domain.

Indeed, industry insiders said CBS has already been pitched projects related to the miners. An Eye spokesman declined comment on reports the net also made a bid for the life rights to the miners, or on whether CBS may now try to rush into production its own pic about the miners.

The Quecreek incident unfolded over 77 hours and generated international media interest as rescuers raced against the clock to bring the miners to safety. The nine men were trapped in a small space just a few feet high after more than 50 million gallons of water nearly submerged them.

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