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PBS rings bell to revive ‘American High’

20th series comes back next spring

Class is back in session for R.J. Cutler’s critically acclaimed reality skein “American High,” but on a new campus: PBS.

The 20th Century Fox Television-produced series, dumped by Fox Broadcasting Co., will resurface on the pubcaster next spring — marking the first time PBS has acquired unaired episodes of a series originally produced for one of the Big Four. New PBS topper Pat Mitchell is expected to announce the acquisition today as part of the unveiling of its latest development slate.

PBS has bought all seven hours of “American High” produced for Fox; web aired just two hours of the skein over two weeks last August.

The pubcaster is expected to unspool the skein starting next April, airing two new half-hour episodes weekly. Segs will then be repeated the next week, forming a two-hour “American High” block.

Web site included

PBS is expected to take over Fox’s “American High” Web site as part of the pact. PBS has indicated it may order original episodes of “High” for broadcast in 2002.

“We’re giddy,” Cutler said of the PBS pickup. “It’s life for the show. Pat Mitchell is really doing what she said she’d do at PBS.”

Cutler said Mitchell was one of the first calls he received after Fox pulled “High.” Showtime also expressed interest in the series.

Twentieth prexy Gary Newman echoed Cutler’s praise of PBS, saying it shows “extraordinary passion for a remarkable series that R.J. and this studio have been committed to every single day for more than a year.”

PBS is getting “High” relatively cheaply. Fox Broadcasting had already paid for most of the show’s costs with its initial order; the pubcaster’s fee should wipe out most of 20th’s remaining deficit.

Should PBS go forward with another season of “High,” 20th and the net will negotiate a new license fee deal.

While PBS has not broadcast previously unaired network primetime product before, pubcaster produced a two-hour telepic in 1993 that wrapped up plotlines from NBC’s “I’ll Fly Away.”

Original deal for “High” was brokered by UTA and Erwin More, Brian Medavoy and Sheryl Stanley. Latter three managers were exec producers of the skein with Cutler.