New Line eyes wide open 'Space' franchise

NEW YORK — New Line Television has begun drawing up the programming and marketing blueprints to transform “Lost in Space,” the $70 million theatrical version of the 1965-68 cult CBS TV series, into a “Star Trek”-type franchise.

“There are 70 million baby boomers out there who remember the original ‘Lost in Space’ because it combines family adventure with sci-fi action,” New Line TV president Bob Friedman said.

Friedman said he’s negotiating with a broadcast network to produce an animated TV series and a live-action series, both to be linked to the spring 1998 release of the theatrical, which begins production next month with William Hurt, Gary Oldman and Mimi Rogers starring and Stephen Hopkins (“Ghost in the Darkness”) directing; Akiva Goldsman (“Batman & Robin”) is the screenwriter.

New Line also is wooing a major advertiser to participate in the movie tie-in and to buy large blocks of time on the animated and live-action series. Friedman said if he doesn’t do a network deal for the animated program, New Line would put it into TV syndication, possibly as early as January, in advance of the theatrical release.

If the theatrical is a hit, New Line might wait until the inevitable sequel is released before going into production with the live-action series in network primetime, he said.

Sci-fi bonanza

One of New Line’s selling points on the franchise possibilities of “Lost in Space” is that half the top 10 grossers of all time are sci-fi related: “E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial,” “Jurassic Park,” “Star Wars,” “Return of the Jedi” and “Independence Day.”

Unlike the TV series, whose robots and space monsters look cheesy by today’s standards, Friedman said Industrial Light & Magic will spend top dollar creating the special effects, and Jim Henson Prods. will work on the creatures.

Another selling point is that “Lost in Space” merchandise makes up eight of the top 20 toy collectibles, according to the Toy Shop Annual Directory 1996.

In for the long run

The 83 original “Lost in Space” episodes have run continuously as a 9 a.m. strip on the Sci-Fi Channel since July 1993.

New Line bought the rights to “Lost in Space” from the estate of the late Irwin Allen, the disaster-movie maven who created and produced the original series.

As precedent for the “Lost in Space” strategy, Friedman said two of New Line’s theatrical hits, “The Mask” and “Dumb & Dumber,” became animated series, and the company has pilots in development for series versions of “Pump Up the Volume” and Robert Altman’s “The Player.”