Imagine Television, the TV arm of Brian Grazer and Ron Howard’s Imagine Entertainment, has inked an exclusive, multiyear production deal with Walt Disney Television. Although the terms were not disclosed, sources familiar with the pact put the pricetag in the neighborhood of $10 million-$12 million.
Primarily known for their films (“Ransom,” “The Nutty Professor,” “Apollo 13”), Grazer and Howard have been out of the television game for several years. Their last network show was the short-lived 1990 NBC series “Parenthood,” based on their theatrical release of the same name.
Of late, though, the company has become active in TV again. Last week, ABC inked a pilot deal with Imagine for a new comedy to be exec produced by screenwriters Lowell Ganz and Babaloo Mandel. The company also has a pilot for Fox titled “The Klumps,” a spinoff of “The Nutty Professor,” as well as another sitcom for Fox in which Eddie Murphy is involved on the production front.
The deal is the latest in a series of high-priced production deals that have been sweeping through the industry as studios and networks seemingly attempt to one-up each other. Many industry observers are concerned that the economics of these deals may not be justified down the road.
Sources familiar with the Imagine deal counter that considering the talent involved, the pricetag is reasonable.
Under the terms of the agreement, Imgine will develop sitcoms, dramas, telefilms and miniseries for Disney.
Also as part of the Disney deal, the Ganz and Mandel pilot will be assigned to the Mouse House. However, when it comes to any TV series based on Imagine Entertainment films, such as “The Klumps,” those shows will be produced through Universal Television.
Imagine Entertainment is based at Universal through the year 2000. However, the company had no TV deal with the studio. Although Howard and Grazer’s deal allows the duo to produce for anybody, clearly the studio is betting Imagine can come up with shows to boost Disney’s ABC net.
Walt Disney Studios chairman Joe Roth, who played an integral role in luring Imagine Television to the company, said he has been looking to bolster the TV arm since gaining oversight of that division last year. Roth recently worked with Imagine on the theatrical hit “Ransom,” which was released through Disney.
“I really liked working with them on ‘Ransom,’ and now that I have oversight over television, we’re trying to bring in people who can generate hits,” Roth said.
While Roth said Imagine Television will produce for all the networks, he acknowledged it “would be great” if the deal can be a positive for ABC.
Despite its founding focus on TV, Imagine Entertainment has primarily been involved in film. Grazer and Howard said they intend to become very active in the TV business.
The duo said their experience with ‘Parenthood’ had left a bad taste about television. “We didn’t have the control of the show we expected to have and were disappointed,” Howard said.
“What makes these guys different from the usual run of feature producers who want to do television is that they don’t look down at the medium,” said Dean Valentine, president of Walt Disney Television and Walt Disney Television Animation. “They both love TV and both have experience in television. This has a real shot of working because these people are committed to the business. This is not a sideline.”
David A. Neuman, president of Walt Disney Television, added that Imagine “now becomes a significant engine for development and production at Walt Disney Television.”
Disney offers many distribution venues to programmers. Besides ABC, the company also owns the Disney Channel and is half-owner of Lifetime Television.
This past season, Disney’s Touchstone Television handed three new shows on the fall sked: ABC’s “Dangerous Minds” and “Life’s Work,” both of which have struggled in the ratings, and UPN’s “Homeboys in Outer Space,” which has been a solid performer. Its vets include ABC’s “Home Improvement” and “Ellen.”