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‘Greenlight’ expects move to pay off

Show sees growth with Bravo, Thursday time slot

While “Project Greenlight” might not have the reality cachet of “Survivor,” it does present something tangible that the CBS behemoth can’t: a chance to affect the consumer marketplace in a real way.

“Greenlight,” which moved this year to Bravo after two seasons on HBO, is a behind-the-scenes look at the making of a feature film by a novice director and screenwriter. The show encourages viewers to throw down their money at the theaters to catch the final cut.

But after the first two seasons, the small screen aud failed to show up at the multiplex. Miramax’s “Stolen Summer,” from tyro helmer Pete Jones working with a budget of $1.5 million, earned a not-so-whopping $134,736. Next up was “The Battle of Shaker Heights,” which nearly doubled “Summer” with $280,351 in box-office earnings, but certainly not enough to recoup Miramax’s $1 million investment.

Miramax bailed out for season No. 3 (although it should be noted that its sister label Dimension did support “Feast,” this season’s pic).

What was a bit of mystery, though, was that HBO also passed. NBC U cabler Bravo quickly picked up the series.

“HBO was a great place to be,” says “Greenlight” exec producer Chris Moore, who’s also a prominent onscreen player in the series. “I can’t say I was surprised that we left HBO, but what I was surprised by was HBO’s lack of enthusiasm. I felt like we had done well enough for them to keep us but, ultimately, I guess they didn’t want us that bad.”

Moore is quick to point out that with “Greenlight” now on premium cabler Bravo, there’s a much bigger audience to reach.

Even so, when the skein premiered in March the numbers weren’t great.

The series originally debuted on Tuesday, as Bravo prexy Lauren Zalaznick scheduled it with “Queer Eye for the Straight Guy,” the net’s top-rated show. But something went awry when the two were paired.

Since moving from Tuesday to Thursdays about four weeks into the season, “Greenlight” found a bigger aud. Overall viewership rose 26% in total viewers and 33% in adults 25-54.

“All nonfiction does not go with nonfiction. Eyeballs don’t necessarily translate,” Zalaznick says.

“Greenlight” exec producers Matt Damon and Ben Affleck came to an agreement at the beginning of this season that to avoid a milquetoast film — and to make some coin for Dimension — choosing an offbeat director with untapped potential was the best chance at making a profitable film.

Enter John Gulager.

The eccentric helmer was sympathetic at times, too pouty on occasion, but always compelling to watch. And, if we’re to believe Moore and Dimension execs, he’s also a skilled director.

“Feast,” a horror film set in a bar where a monster attacks the trapped patrons, is set for release Jan. 20. That’s different from the first two “Greenlight” films, which hit theaters right after the show ended.

That strategy might have backfired, says Moore, who says the publicity may have led to a case of “Greenlight” overload.

“We may have proven that the more you know about the movie, the less you want to see it,” he says.

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