Sci Fi high on fantasy minis

Spielberg project, 'The Thing' among net's slate

NEW YORK — The Sci Fi Channel is negotiating with Steven Spielberg, DreamWorks TV and the creative team who produced the 20-hour miniseries “Taken,” a runaway success in December, for a fresh epic fantasy to run in 2004-05.

Untitled project, still in script development, would not be a sequel to “Taken,” Sci Fi Channel prexy Bonnie Hammer said Monday at an upfront presentation to reporters.

She declined to volunteer any further details about the content of Spielberg’s mini,but said the plan is for Sci Fi to commission 18 hours and schedule them in three separate six-episode bursts, one per quarter. “I look on it as a three-part franchise, similar to ‘Lord of the Rings’ and the ‘Harry Potter’ movies,” she said.

Hammer also disclosed two other big-ticket miniseries in development as part of a record commitment to original shows that will result in a doubling of Sci Fi’s programming budget through 2005. She wouldn’t discuss dollar figures, but the network could spend more than $200 million on both original and acquired programming in 2003.

These are the two minis:

  • “6 Days ‘Til Sunday” is a six-hour suspense thriller from Lions Gate Films about a man who discovers proof that foretells his grisly murder in six days. He has that much time to find out how to rewrite the future. Sci Fi will sked the mini over six consecutive nights. David Kirschner is executive producer.

  • “The Thing,” the second remake of “The Thing from Another World” (1951), concerns a group of American scientists isolated in an outpost in Antarctica and their battle with a human-like alien that has survived the crash of its spaceship. This four-hour version, adapted by Gary L. Goldman, will follow more closely the John Carpenter 1982 edition, which focused on elaborate f/x and the paranoia of shape-shifting creatures that can take over the mind and body of a human being.

Series development at Sci Fi announced for the first time at the upfront include the following:

  • “Dead Lawyers,” from DreamWorks TV, concerns attorneys who screwed clients during their working life and have to redeem themselves after death by coming back to earth and trying to help people unjustly convicted of a crime.

  • “The Divide,” from Lions Gate TV, follows an oddball trio of crimefighters made up of a psychic latenight DJ, his dead twin sister who offers advice from beyond the grave and a local coroner. Stan Brooks is exec producer.

  • “Legion” concerns a young man who sells his soul to the devil and has to do battle with the forces of evil to “free himself from eternal damnation.” Stephen Garrett and Jane Featherstone are exec producers; Whoopi Goldberg is a producer.

  • “Stargate: Atlantis” is a spinoff of the Sci Fi Channel’s biggest series hit, “Stargate: SG-1,” also produced by MGM TV.

Hammer said her bosses have signed off on Sci Fi’s elaborate programming plans because the network is harvesting the best ratings in its history, coming off another record-breaking primetime quarter — its second in a row. According to Sci Fi’s researchers, the net has increased its ratings in each of the last 11 months, a claim no other web, broadcast or cable, can make.

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