NBC expected to ink deal for miniseries of ‘Gai-jin’

NBC is expected to announce this morning that NBC Prods. has signed a deal to produce a miniseries based on novelist James Clavell’s bestseller, “Gai-jin.”

The Peacock Web is hosting a 10 a.m. press conference at the Rizzoli Book Store in Beverly Hills, and the novelist will be sharing hosting duties with NBC Entertainment president Warren Littlefield and NBC Prods. prez John Agoglia.

Sixth novel in saga

“Gai-jin” is the sixth novel in the author’s Asian saga. Other books include “Noble House” and “Shogun,” which was a Nielsen dynamo for NBC in 1980. “Gai-jin” has been on the bestseller list for roughly eight weeks and currently occupies the No. 6 position.

“Gai-jin” is a pejorative term that Japanese used to I.D. a Westerner.

“Shogun” aired as a five-part, 12-hour miniseries on NBC in 1980 and remains one of prime time’s most watched programs. It averaged a 32.6 rating, 51 share. At the time of its airing, the lush historical drama rated second to “Roots,” which nabbed a 45 rating/66 share.

If there is one lesson network brass took away from the November and February sweeps this past year, it’s that miniseries can work. After CBS’ “Queen” scored a 23.9/36 and ABC’s “The Jacksons” nabbed a 22.2/33, “event” programming, including miniseries, was viewed by programmers as the surest bulwark for fighting viewer defection.

Adaptations of John Updike’s “Rabbit” novels and Alexandra Ripley’s “Scarlett” as well as sequels to “Lonesome Dove,””North & South” and “The Thorn Birds” will all be heading to the small screen soon.

The production team behind “Queen” is busy prepping a mini for CBS built around the legend of King Arthur. Laurel Entertainment (a subsidiary of Spelling Entertainment Group) is producing Stephen King’s “The Stand” as an eight-hour miniseries for ABC.

Before CBS’ phenomenal success with “Lonesome Dove” in 1988, miniseries were development pariahs. CBS’ broadcast of James Michener’s “Space” died over five nights in April 1985. And ABC’s “War & Remembrance” crashed and burned over five nights during the 1988 November sweeps prompting the web to establish a recently repealed moratorium on projects longer than four hours.