Helen Verno leads studio's efforts in reinvigorated market
Don’t tell Helen Verno that the TV movie is on the ropes.Sony Pictures TV’s longtime head of movies and minis is busier than ever, and demand is growing as more cable outlets pursue high-end projects. Sony TV has helped invigorate the market with the success of its “Hatfields and McCoys” mini for History and its “Steel Magnolias” remake for Lifetime. “These (telepics) showed that if you put big stars in the right vehicles, people still want to see this kind of event programming,” Verno said. “A miniseries is still an event if you have the right material, the right cast and the right (creative) auspices.” Sony Pictures TV is the most active of all the majors in developing and producing high-end longform fare for a diverse range of buyers. Others pulled back on the genre after the major broadcast networks gradually gave up on programming regular made-for and miniseries slots. Verno is fielding development prospects for HBO, Lifetime and History. And she is scouting for projects to meet the increased appetite for original longform production at Cinemax, Starz, ReelzChannel and even Discovery Channel. The Fox network and FX signaled new interest in longform and limited series in October by unveiling a joint production venture under the direction of former HBO exec Gina Balian. Verno is hopeful that a project will come together at ABC in the near future. Sony TV is in production for Lifetime on a biopic about Anna Nicole Smith, and the studio is plotting a four-hour mini on the larcenous legend of Bonnie and Clyde for History. Both of those are shepherded by producers Craig Zadan and Neil Meron, who recently extended their longform overall deal with Sony. Another high-profile property for Sony is the sequel to “5,” the breast cancer anthology for Lifetime. Like the first pic, which aired last year, the follow-up is drawing marquee players including Jennifer Hudson, Octavia Spencer, Sarah Hyland and Melissa Leo. Verno, who is an exec veep at the studio, credits the support of her boss, Sony Pictures TV prexy Steve Mosko, for keeping high-end longform a priority for the company. It’s part of the mantra to keep Sony Pictures TV active in all forms of television production, Verno said. “We’re interesting in anything that makes good television,” she said. Talent is also recognizing the value of longform production to careers and as a venue for passion projects. Verno notes that “Hatfields” is an example of how thesps and others are willing to work for less money on meaningful projects. “Hatfields” star-producer Kevin Costner set the tone on the six-hour production. “When Kevin Costner wants to do something, everybody else jumps onboard,” Verno said. “They work for love and less money than they might be able to make elsewhere.”
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