Family on spending spree

NEW YORK — Family Channel’s programming budget will shoot up beyond the $100-million mark for 1997, propelled by two initiatives:

New production of a batch of original movies and a fresh hourlong version of “Let’s Make a Deal.”

The purchase of rerun rights to “Diagnosis Murder,” “Murder She Wrote” and “Hawaii Five-0,” all of which will end up on Family’s primetime schedule.

At its annual upfront presentation here Tuesday, Tim Robertson, CEO of Intl. Family Entertainment, the network’s parent company, and Tony Thomopoulos, CEO of MTM Entertainment, a Family subsidiary, made only glancing references to the rumors than Rupert Murdoch, NBC and CBS are all negotiating to buy the company, refusing to confirm or deny the reports.

Gus Lucas, president of programming for Family, said the original movies, which will run once a month on the network, include “Love-Struck” (a romantic comedy with Cynthia Gibb), “If Love Comes Back” (a drama with Jaclyn Smith), “Let Me Call You Sweetheart” (a thriller by Mary Higgins Clark, with Meredith Baxter) and “Mother Teresa” (a bio-drama with Geraldine Chaplin).

Among the movies in development for 1997-98 are “Flood,” “Fourth Horseman” (deadly virus breaks out on a cruise ship), “Moonlight Becomes You” (another Higgins Clark thriller), “Renewable Option” (a comedy about single parents who fall in love), “Downfall” (an avalanche at a posh ski resort), “Retribution Day” (aliens attack Earth), “Powerdown” (a city blacks out after a power failure), “John Wayne” (a bio-drama), “New Cannonball Run” (a road-race movie produced by Al Ruddy) and “Earthquake in New York.”

“The New Let’s Make a Deal,” produced by Stone Stanley Prods., will kick off in the fall at 4 p.m. weekdays with Marc Somers as the new host.

Paramount TV’s “Hawaii Five-0” reruns start later this month every weeknight at 9. Par and Family have digitally remastered the 175 episodes the network has purchased. If the show works, Lucas says Family has an option to buy the remaining 111 hours.

Family has bought all 93 hours of “Diagnosis Murder,” also from Paramount, for a fall 1997 start nightly at 10 p.m., displacing “The 700 Club,” the religious talkshow hosted by Pat Robertson, the majority owner of Family Channel. “700 Club” moves to 11 p.m.

Universal’s “Murder She Wrote,” which has served as an 8 p.m. bellwether on the USA network for the last eight years, will become available to Family exclusively in the fall of 1998.

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