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TV’s Storyline getting serious about series

Duo ink pilot deal for 'Jupiter'

Now that they’ve conquered the longform world, Storyline Entertainment toppers Craig Zadan and Neil Meron are preparing to tackle series television.

The production duo behind this season’s most-watched telepic (TV Guide Award-winner “Annie”) and top-rated miniseries in key demos (“The Beach Boys”) have inked their first-ever pilot deal, signing on to develop and exec produce the single-cam, half-hour dramedy “Jupiter and Mars” for Fox Family Channel. Several other series projects are also in the early stages of development.

In addition, Storyline continues to line up new telepic commitments: CBS has greenlit production on a remake of “Butterflies are Free,” the Tony-winning Leonard Gershe play which was the basis for the 1972 Goldie Hawn starrer from Columbia Pictures.

Rebecca Romijn-Stamos will topline the updated telepic, which will be exec produced by Storyline, Col TriStar Television and John Stamos. Stamos and Storyline also collaborated on “The Beach Boys.”

Though longform remains Storyline’s bread and butter — company has snagged 25 Emmy and 8 Golden Globe noms in recent years — ramping up the expansion into weekly skeins has become a top priority, according to Meron.

“We very seriously want to be in the series business,” he said. “It’s not something we want to just dabble in. We’ve been able to make a mark in TV movies by doing things in a unique way. We want to make shows the same way.”

Meron said Storyline “is very actively pursuing projects … (and) writers. We’re laying the groundwork for next (development) season.”

Divorce, TV style

“Jupiter and Mars” revolves around an 11-year-old girl who suddenly finds herself caught between her divorced parents’ two very different worlds. Shannon Bradley is writing the pilot and will serve as co-exec producer; Adam Collis is set to direct and will serve as co-exec producer.

WMA repped Storyline, Bradley and Collis in the pilot deal.

The new projects come as Storyline puts the finishing touches on the April 24th ABC telepic “The Three Stooges” and preps production on next season’s Alphabet megamusical “Mame,” which is being produced with Barbra Streisand and Cis Corman.

Other telepics in the works include Lifetime’s “What Makes a Family” (with Streisand, Corman and Whoopi Goldberg attached as exec producers); “Me and My Shadows” (with Lorna Luft as an exec producer) and “The Music Man” (also with Streisand/Corman.)

Under their recently-inked overall deal with Disney, Storyline is also exec producing the feature pic “Enchanted,” a mix of live action and animation from producers Barry Josephson and Barry Sonnenfeld and helmer Rob Marshall.

A.B. Fischer, a former exec at Beacon Communications, has been hired as VP of feature development for the company. He joins TV development topper Dave Mace.

Storyline is also mounting a touring stage production of “Rodgers & Hammerstein’s Cinderella” based on the company’s TV adaptation of the classic tale. Whitney Houston, Debra Martin Chase and Chris Montan are production partners on the project, which is being funded through Storyline’s Disney deal.

Heavy participation

Despite the slew of projects in development, Zadan and Meron are trying to stay heavily involved in every production.

“The key thing is not to get spread to thin,” said Zadan, noting that Storyline has been in continuous production since 1998. “We start one (movie) as soon as we finish another.”

“It’s important that we have a hands-on presence in everything we do and maintain as much quality as we can,” added Meron. “We don’t do ‘product.’ We do projects we care passionately.”

Storyline has also built a rep as a production house which regularly takes on celebs as production partners. In addition to their longstanding relationship with Streisand, Zadan and Meron have teamed with Bette Midler, Diana Ross, Brandy and Mel Gibson.

“We don’t hire talent. We work with talent,” says Meron. “We like to be collaborative. We like to include them in all the artistic decisions. It always gives them a sense that they’re more than just hired help.”

Storyline first ventured into television with the three-hour CBS musical adaptation of “Gypsy,” which starred Midler in the title role. The critical plaudits and Nielsen success of the project convinced Meron and Zadan to delve further into the telepic biz.

“It put us on the map. Overnight everyone knew who we were,” said Zadan.

Storyline’s next big musical event was ABC’s “Cinderella,” which outdid “Gypsy” in viewership and convinced ABC and Disney to make an overall deal with Zadan and Meron for exclusive rights to Storyline’s TV musicals.

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