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Pop.com woos top talent

Netcaster's shorts could cross over to film, TV

Nearly five months after announcing its creation, Pop.com is in discussions with thesps Will Smith, Julia Roberts, Eddie Murphy and Mike Myers to create original programming for the yet-to-launch comedy-themed Netcaster founded by DreamWorks and Imagine Entertainment.

The stars will most likely create and star in original shows in the five minute range to be broadcast exclusively on the Web site in exchange for cash and stock options.

Glendale-based Pop.com has yet to hire a chief technology officer but is close to a final decision, according to Kenneth Wong, chairman and CEO of the site that is still skedded to bow sometime before June with one to six minute animated and live-action short films, games and pay-per-view Webcasts.

Meagan Weaver, of Roth/Arnold Prods, was recently tapped as programming exec to help develop upcoming projects.

In a recent solicitation for talent at tenpercenteries, Pop.com was accepting script pitches for one week (ending today) for Smith, Roberts and Murphy to star in shorts less than five minutes.

As part of the deal, writers and directors would not receive any money should the ideas be picked up; instead, they would receive exposure and a possible development deal with Imagine or DreamWorks should the projects do well.

Pop.com founders Ron Howard, Steven Spielberg, Jeffrey Katzenberg and Brian Grazer have said that if successful, projects could cross over to traditional TV and film venues, allowing Pop.com to become an online showcase for new filmmakers.

Backed by $50 million in financing by Paul Allen’s Vulcan Ventures, Pop.com has been active over the past several months.

Rival Z.com has also been going after top talent by dangling cash and stock, while Shockwave.com secured Tim Burton and “South Park” creators Matt Stone and Trey Parker.

The ultimate idea is that recognizable names will lure more Netizens to view programming on the ‘Net, something that has yet to grow beyond a gimmick. For the stars, the deals could mean millions once the companies file an IPO.

As part of the holding deals, the talent has the option of exiting Pop.com should they not agree with projects offered to them. No deals have officially been inked with talent.

Ben Affleck and Matt Damon recently turned down an offer made by Pop.com, sources said. Affleck is readying his own dot-com venture.

Critics also are wondering whether Pop.com’s business model will actually make money. The site does not plan to include traditional banner advertising on its site, hoping to generate revenues from merchandising and pay-per-view fees.

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