UPN loads up on sci-fi for new movie night

NEW YORK — The UPN network will commission 36 original science-fiction movies for its new primetime movie night, placing orders with Paramount Studios (and its Viacom Pictures and Wilshire Court subsidiaries), Alliance Communications Corp., Atlantis Releasing and the Showtime paycable network.

“There’s no precedent that I can think of for such an extensive movie commitment” from only four suppliers, said John Levoff, executive producer of movies for UPN.

UPN will kick off the 8 p.m. Thursdays sci-fi pic lineup in April as an outgrowth of its successful Wednesday series duo of “The Sentinel” and “Star Trek: Voyager.” Various sources said the license fees UPN is paying are below the $2.5 million to $2.7 million per picture a broadcast network usually shells out, because the volume of the order will allow the producers to amortize the production cost of the movies over a guaranteed eight or nine titles.

Levoff said the Showtime titles will run first on the cable network but “quickly” shift over to UPN to take advantage of Showtime’s marketing and publicity. Paramount will get an order for 10 sci-fi movies, but Levoff said it’s up to the studio to decide how it allocates the order among Wilshire Court (which produces as many as a dozen original movies a year for the USA network), Viacom Pictures and Paramount Studios itself.

Both Paramount and Showtime are owned by Viacom. UPN is co-owned by Viacom and Chris-Craft.

One source said the Atlantis deal is a co-production partnership with the TV movie company run by Steve White and Sheri Singer. Atlantis has a long track record of producing sci-fi programming, particularly series such as the forthcoming syndicated “Gene Roddenberry’s Earth: Final Conflict,” the ongoing “Outer Limits” series for MGM and “Psi Factor: Chronicles of the Paranormal” for Eyemark Entertainment.

A source at Alliance said the veteran producing team of Lewis Chesler and David Perlmutter (“The Hitchhiker”) will do all of Alliance’s UPN movies, which will focus on psychological horror rather than big special effects.

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