Woo pilot resurfaces on cabler

Movie Channel breathes new life into actioner

NEW YORK — Hong Kong action director John Woo, who scored big with last summer’s theatrical hit “Face/Off,” has become such a brand name that even a busted two-hour pilot he produced and directed two years ago for the Fox network is getting a new lease on life.

Showtime’s sister network TMC (the Movie Channel) has bought the pilot, called “John Woo’s Once a Thief,” but instead of the bowdlerized version that ran on Fox, TMC will run the edition distributed by Alliance Entertainment in the videostores, which restored about 12 minutes of hard action to the pilot.

“This story may not deserve the biggest headlines, but it’s a groundbreaking deal,” says Michael Weisbarth, president of Alliance TV Prods. “We found a creative way of marketing what critics said is a good action movie.”

A TV first

Weisbarth says it’s the first time that a movie that premiered on a broadcast network ended up two years later on a pay TV channel with an all-new ad campaign tied to the unseen footage.

“Originally, we couldn’t have had worse timing for the movie because the Fox network was undergoing a management turnover” when the “Once a Thief” pilot landed on the primetime schedule on Sept. 29, 1996, said Weisbarth.

Although Fox walked away from the series, Weisbarth says that Alliance decided to produce 20 episodes, 18 of them one hour and the other two stretching to two hours, bolstered by production money from CTV of Canada and Pro-Seiben of Germany. Production ceased last year.

In addition to the pilot, TMC has bought the pair of two-hour episodes, billing them as “John Woo’s Once a Thief: Family Business” and “John Woo’s Once a Thief: Brother Against Brother,” even though Woo didn’t direct either.

500G a title

Alliance and TMC declined to discuss how much the channel is paying for the three “Once a Thief” movies, but one source says the license fee will come to about $500,000 a title, a solid payday for the distributor considering that the series was languishing on Alliance’s shelf.

Woo’s second TV project for Alliance, “Blackjack,” a two-hour pilot for a proposed series with Dolph Lundgren, is now in the videostores, distributed by the homevideo division of Miramax, with the USA Networks slated to run it in primetime later this summer.

With Rod Perth’s having resigned as head of programming for USA last week, the chance of “Blackjack’s” ever going to series on USA has diminished, according to sources.