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Turner Pix bows starry slate

Fledgling Turner Pictures, after more than a year of planning amid difficult industry speculation, staked out its own Hollywood territory with the Oct. 12 announcement of its rookie slate of greenlit and in-development projects.

They involve such filmmakers as Oliver Stone, Spike Lee and Nora Ephron, scribes Michael Crichton and Robin Swicord, producers Dawn Steel and Denise Di Novi and thesps John Travolta, Denzel Washington and Chris Farley.

The company said it will put six pics into production by the end of next year, taken from a development corral of nearly 40. This reps a significant acceleration of the Turner game plan under production prexy Amy Pascal. Turner had originally aimed for two or three pics by 1996, four or five by 1997 and eight by 1998.

It also reaffirms Turner’s place in the Time Warner/Turner universe if the merger of the two mega-entities goes through as planned. Naysayers had predicted a scaling-back of the startup under Time Warner control. But Ted Turner, whose name adorns the letterhead, has pledged to fully support the company’s range of high-profile, competitive pics.

Pascal and Turner Entertainment Group prexy Scott Sassa, who made the announcement, pointed to a slew of projects with major stars and directors, as well as budgets that are competitive with major studio projects. She said exec veepee Lucas Foster and veepees Kristine Belson and Matt Tolmach contributed heavily to the slate of major deals Turner boasts.

“We’ve had the luxury of not having the equivalent of a biological clock ticking,” Sassa said. “We made a conscious decision, when we started, to build a development base. Now, we’ve got to execute.”

Pascal added: “I can’t really say that it’s ahead of schedule because it’s still eight by 1998. But it’s still good. We’re right where we want to be.”

Tapping the library

In addition to original material, Turner is banking heavily on its access to rights from the massive Turner library (formerly the MGM library), as well as the Hanna-Barbera cartoon library, which is owned by Turner Broadcasting System.

Among the greenlights for 1996:

* “Edwards and Hunt: The First American Road Trip,” starring Chris Farley. Christopher Guest will direct from a script by Boyd Hale, Mark Nutter and Tom Wolfe. Pic, produced by Di Novi, is slated to begin filming in April for a mid-1997 release.

* “The Jetsons,” based on the 1960s cartoon series, helmed by Chuck Russell (“The Mask”) and written by Scott Alexander and Larry Karaszewski (“Ed Wood”). Pic will start in mid-1996 for a 1997 release. It reps the beginning of Turner’s mandate to take advantage of the Hanna-Barbera library. Also in development are films based on animated favorites “Jonny Quest” and “Scooby Doo.”

* The previously announced “Michael,” starring Travolta, directed by Ephron and written by Ephron, Delia Ephron and Pete Dexter. Pic has a start date in February, slated for a Christmas 1996 release.

* “Fallen,” written by Nick Kazan (“Reversal of Fortune”), about a cop who discovers that the killer he’s looking for is the devil. Atlas will produce.

* “Jackie Robinson,” directed by Lee and starring Washington. Pic is about the legendary ballplayer who broke the color barrier in the major leagues. It will have a 1997 release to coincide with the 50th anniversary of Robinson’s achievement.

* “City of Angels,” also produced by Atlas. Dana Stevens scripted the story about a guardian angel who falls in love with the woman he’s been assigned to watch over.

High-priority projects

Pascal and Sassa also announced a smattering of development projects that are on the front burner, including:

* “The Fountainhead,” helmed by Oliver Stone. The director is developing Ayn Rand’s tale of ambition, greed, failure and triumph in the architectural world. Stone and Pascal recently met with Turner at his Montana ranch to discuss the deal.

* “CIA Project,” about a new CIA recruit who suspects his closest ally is a dangerous enemy. Marshall Herskovitz and Ed Zwick are producing from John Lee Hancock’s (“A Perfect World”) script.

* “Practical Magic,” based on Alice Hoffman’s novel about three generations of witches. Di Novi is producing and Swicord (“Little Women”) is adapting the tome, for which Turner outbid several studios.

* “Gilligan’s Island,” produced by Brillstein/Grey and Sherwood Schwartz, to be a “hip retelling” of the classic TV show.

* “The Shop Around the Corner,” an update of the MGM pic about a man and a woman who hate each other by day but fall in love every night as penpals – this time on the Internet. Ephron is directing from a script by Wendy Wasserstein. Lauren Shuler-Donner is producing.

* “Genes,” a Michael Crichton script set in the world of genetic experimentation. Propaganda Films will produce, along with Crichton.

* “The Jeri Cobb Story,” about 13 women and their struggle to join the U.S. space program in the 1960s. Di Novi and Rosalie Swedlin will produce from a script by Peter Osterlund and Amy Brooke Baker.

* “Guys,” a broad comedy about a world in which all of the women disappear. Lou Holtz (“Cable Guy”) is scripting. Lynda Obst (“The Fisher King,” “Sleepless in Seattle”) will produce.

* “Him,” written and helmed by Caroline Thompson. It’s a psychological thriller about a young female scientist who races to contain an alien microbe that attacks and destroys the male of the human species.

Pascal also pointed to several projects that Ted Turner had pushed for, including the Admiral Nelson story, a pic about Joan of Arc and a remake of “The Treasure of the Sierra Madre.”

Regarding distribution for Turner’s slate, Sassa said sister company New Line Cinema will continue to handle Turner product. Sassa added, however, “Anything that will happen post-merger has not yet been decided.”

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