Starz reaches for ‘Santa’

Insiders say comedy's budget was about $3.5 mil

NEW YORK — John Malone’s Starz pay TV network has scheduled the world premieres of three busted theatricals and one made-for-cable movie — a Christmas family comedy called “Must Be Santa” — between now and the end of the year.

Although a spokesman for Starz declined to discuss dollar figures, insiders said the budget of “Santa” came to about $3.5 million. Starz bought the exclusive pay TV rights in the U.S., but Universal owns the ancillary markets, from homevideo to syndicated TV.

For the pay TV premieres of the movies that never made it to U.S. multiplexes, Starz will pay an average of about $500,000 a picture.

The September debut is a satire about Hollywood moviemaking from New Line Pictures called “With Friends Like These,” featuring an ensemble cast including Bill Murray, Beverly D’Angelo and David Strathairn. The executive producers are Jon Ein, Marty Feinberg and E.K. Gaylord II. Penny Marshall is among the seven producers. Helmer Philip Frank Messina also wrote the screenplay.

October installment

In October, Starz has “Gideon,” an uplifting drama about the effect of a young man on the denizens of a retirement home. The star is Christopher Lambert, who also co-produced the movie, and supporting players include Charlton Heston, Shelley Winters, Carroll O’Connor and Shirley Jones. The executive producers are Howard Baldwin & Richard Cohen. The screenplay is by Brad Mirman; Claudia Hoover directed.

The November offering is Trident Pictures’ “The Unknown Cyclist,” about the effect of AIDS on a close-knit group of people. Lea Thompson and Vincent Spano topline the pic, which is the directorial debut of Bernard Salzman. The executive producers are Howard Skora, Betsy Pool and Matthew Carlisle. Carlisle and Pool are co-authors of the screenplay.

The comedy “Must Be Santa,” for December, is part of an output deal Starz has with Universal to produce a couple of original movies each year. Starz also has an output deal for all of the theatrical movies distributed by Universal.

Directed by Brad Turner and written by Douglas Bowie, “Must Be Santa” stars Dabney Coleman.