Beacon lights up TV deals

Bernstein ready to try tube

Armyan Bernstein’s Beacon is making a major small-screen push, inking separate deals with Disney’s Touchstone Television and ABC units.

Beacon has also tapped its first-ever TV topper, naming former UPN senior veep Laurie Zaks president of its newly formed television division. Sixteen-year-old company — whose feature credits range from “The Commitments” and “Air Force One” to the upcoming “The Guardian” — will continue to do business out of its Santa Monica offices.

Bernstein, founder and chairman of Beacon, said the increasing importance of TV made the medium too attractive to ignore.

“If you don’t play in television these days, then you’re missing a chance to play in the big sandbox,” Bernstein told Daily Variety, adding that Beacon doesn’t plan to simply dip its toes into the small-screen waters.

“All the resources that Beacon can bring to bear on this venture are going to be called upon,” Bernstein said.

At Touchstone, Beacon Television has a one-year deal to develop projects for both broadcast and cable networks, according to Bernstein. He says ABC pact is a three-for-one agreement that guarantees production of at least one pilot during the 2006-07 season; Bernstein will pen one of the scripts himself.

He said TV is tackling topics not being touched in mainstream features.

“As the cost of making and marketing films goes up and up, you’re forced to play to a broader and broader demographic,” Bernstein said. “What’s happened is that some of the best dramas are now on television. Television can speak to those sorts of stories and themes that aren’t being addressed in movies.

“I started in television,” the former broadcast journalist added. “I feel like I’m coming home again.”

Deals keep Beacon in the Disney fold. It’s had a film deal in place since 2002.

“It made sense to us to stay with Disney for television, since they’ve been such good partners to us on the film side,” Bernstein said. Touchstone TV prexy Mark Pedowitz “helped talk me into making a commitment to television, and we all need a little encouragement now and then.”

Bernstein said he had been “looking for someone to run TV for 18 months” and hooked up with Zaks after she was recommended to him.

“People I really respect in the business called me and said someone really special is available but won’t be available long,” he said. Scribe-producer said he hopes to develop six to 10 projects at Touchstone, initially focusing on hourlong dramas.

“I’ve already gotten a lot of calls from writers and producers whom we’ve worked with on our films, and they all say the same thing: ‘Hey, we want to get into television, too,’ ” Bernstein said. “So we’re going for it. I hope we get lucky.”

Zaks joined UPN in 2002, staying with the network through its final season. She had previously been VP of current programs for CBS, where she spent six years.

While at the Eye, Zaks was in charge of day-to-day creative management for laffers “Everybody Loves Raymond” and “The King of Queens,” along with drama “The Guardian.”

Zaks will report to Bernstein and Beacon CEO Charlie Lyons.

Before joining CBS, Zaks was one of the founding execs at Comedy Central, where she spent six years.

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