USA pumps up longform

Network aims to commission 24 -30 movies a year

NEW YORK — Biopics of Wilt Chamberlain, George Foreman and Marge Schott highlight a wide-ranging slate of original movies on the drawing boards of the USA Network.

Adam Shapiro, VP of longform original programming for USA Networks, says USA’s goal is to commission between 24 and 30 made-for-TV movies a year by the 2001-02 season, more than any other basic-cable network in the country. USA now schedules about 12 new movies a year.

Although USA declined to discuss dollar figures, one person said the average cost of a picture will hover between $3.5 million and $4 million, which would put the network’s annual movie budget at upwards of $100 million.

With one exception, all 18 of the forthcoming announced movies will be owned inhouse by Studios USA. The exception is the previously announced “The Mary Kay Letourneau Story: All-American Girl,” which comes out of Grosso-Jacobson Prods.

USA has fallen in love not only with biographical movies but with movies based on true-life events. “Look at the success of the ‘Biography’ series on A&E,” Shapiro said. “People are endlessly fascinated by what’s really happening in the lives of their friends and neighbors.”

Among the movies being disclosed by USA for the first time are:

  • “The Marge Schott Story,” which will follow the life of the controversial former owner of the Cincinnati Reds from her unveiling as a debutante to her marriage into a wealthy family and her eventual takeover of the Reds, coming a cropper when she went public with remarks that were perceived as racist. Joanna Lancaster and Kim Hori are executive producers for Langley Prods. The writers are Carolyn Shelby and Chris Ames.

  • “The Chippendale Murders,” which will focus on the founder of the Chippendale Dancers, whose sensational life included blackmail, racketeering, arson, murder and suicide. Jennifer Alward is executive producer and Richard Adams is the writer.

  • “Soldier Girl: Molly McCann,” a period piece set in 1861 about a woman who pretends to be a man so she can take her dead brother’s place as a Union Army trooper. Keith Carradine and Stephen McPherson are executive producers.

  • “Mama’s Boy,” which deals with a policewoman who, unbeknownst to her, is the mother of the serial killer that her department is trying to capture. Orly Adelson is the executive producer.

  • “Hunted,” a wilderness thriller about a female FBI tracker on the heels of a killer, with both of them being stalked by a humongous bear. Bob Chmiel is executive producer for Dan Paulsen Prods. The writers are Mark Rossman and Richard Ades.

  • “Cult Burglars,” a comedy about two ex-cons who must join a cult because it has set up its compound on the spot where they buried the stolen loot they went to prison for. Bob Kosberg is executive producer.

  • “The George Foreman Story,” about the man who escaped poverty by becoming a boxer and who went on to win the world heavyweight championship. Jana Memel will executive produce for Chanticleer Films. Adam Rodman is the writer.

Other new projects include “Wilt Chamberlain” about the late basketball great; “Hostage Negotiator,” about a female FBI agent who has to negotiate with a gunman who’s her ex-husband; “Model Wars,” about corruption among New York modeling agencies, and “The Darkling,” about a stockbroker who sells his soul to the devil.