MGM TV Rides High With 'Vikings'

With a muscular catalog of some 4,000 feature film titles and 10,500 TV episodes, MGM Television has a bounty of material from which to draw in fashioning its development slate, and prexy Roma Khanna, at the helm of TV and digital distribution since 2011, is using it to her advantage. All while touting original series such as the top-rated “Teen Wolf,” now in its fourth season on MTV, and the highly anticipated “Fargo” on FX, to pad the growth of Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer’s smallscreen arm.

“We have great jewels in our library, from the ‘Rocky’ films to the James Bond franchise to ‘Legally Blonde,’ and they are a huge advantage to us in the marketplace,” notes Khanna of the production company’s key to financial and critical success.

“But we also don’t just want to be a company that reinvents our library. We haven’t gone into this thinking about how (these movies) have been done and how they should have been done, but rather we’re focusing on the smartest way to re-create them for the future.”

This philosophy came into play when partnering with cabler FX and scribe Noah Hawley (“Bones”) to adapt the Coen brothers’ Oscar-winning 1996 film “Fargo,” pictured above, as a 10-episode limited series starring Martin Freeman, Colin Hanks and Billy Bob Thornton.

“We didn’t set out with the network to do something that was derivative but something that was reverential,” says Steve Stark, president, television production and development at MGM. “The question became how do we develop a whole new story and all new characters that are in tone with what we loved about the movie?”

Eric Schrier, president, original programming & FX Prods., echoes that message. “We were always hoping to do something inspired by the movie rather than a re-telling of the movie. I don’t think we would have succeeded had we gone that way.”

The primary thrust of MGM TV, says Khanna, is not to “redo” movies, but to “redesign” them for modern times.

“The idea behind ‘Fargo’ was to reframe it for our current history,” she says. “ ‘Fargo’ is a state of mind and that is what this show is about.”
Khanna credits the MGM TV exec team, which includes John Bryan, president, domestic television distribution, for keeping the focus on smart and aggressive growth.

“We’ve really created an entrepreneurial environment built on decades of collective experience,” she says. “The one thing we all have in common is our spirit.”

That gusto and dedication has helped drive the net’s first major scripted skein, “Vikings,” a sprawling family saga set in medieval Scandinavia. Chris Ottinger, MGM’s prexy of international television distribution and acquisitions, hails the one-hour drama as “lush, big, real, and rich like a feature film.”

“We filmed it a year ago and by the time we were finished at MIP (in 2013), the show was pretty much sold everywhere — to more than 125 countries,” says Ottinger of the Michael Hirst-created skein, now in its second season. “It flew off the shelf in a way that I had never seen before.”

MGM TV’s strategy for expansion on both the domestic and international levels includes continued sales for such syndicated programs as “Paternity Court” (which the company brought to syndication in 92% of the U.S. through its finance and distribution entity Orion TV Production), the gameshow “Let’s Ask America” and the viral video show “Right This Minute,” which airs on the basic cabler HLN.

But scripted series will remain the heart of MGM TV’s ramp-up efforts.

“Our goal is to double, if not triple, our production slate in the next couple of years,” says Khanna. “We have projects in development with literally every broadcaster out there. We have half-hours in development, but the core of our portfolio will be one-hour cable dramas. There is a real appetite for that type of programming and we want to create the best.”

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