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Lion flyin’ on TV slate

TV sked giving studio 'wider portfolio' of shows

The regime atop MGM’s TV operation, which celebrates its two-year anniversary this summer, has projects in the works for broadcast, cable and syndication. Among them are several TV series adaptations of MGM theatrical titles — such as “Fame” and “It’s a Mad Mad Mad Mad World” — eyed for networks.

Among the projects in development are dating skein “Hooking Up” for Showtime and “Twisted Justice,” a legal reality/round table show for basic cable and/or syndication.

“We have the potential based on ordered development to have a much wider portfolio in the areas of television than we’ve had since I’ve been here,” Hank Cohen, prexy of MGM Television Entertainment, told Daily Variety. “We don’t have to prove it to people any more — we’re in television.”

The roster of shows indicates the division’s mission has begun to gel, Cohen said.

“The first order of business since Chris (McGurk) and Alex (Yemenidjian) took over was to become more definite about what the mission is for TV,” Cohen said. “We’re looking to be strategically placed, to target develop. Being on the air is not as important as being at the right place with the right project and getting a return on the investment.”

Cohen and Jim Griffiths, prexy of MGM Worldwide Television Distribution, became heads of MGM’s TV efforts in July 1999 after former TV topper John Symes stepped down. Symes’ departure came as part of the exec shakeup following the installation of Yemenidjian and McGurk as MGM’s chairman and vice chairman that year.

While two syndication projects have launched since then — fall 1999’s “National Enquirer Television” and last fall’s “Sex Wars” — MGM backed away from hitting up station buyers with any new strips for this fall.

Griffiths said the company recognized that the already tough syndie marketplace has become treacherous for a company like MGM, which is not aligned with a station group.

Syndication possible

“If we have a project that is unique, something very specialized that we feel creatively belongs only in syndication, we will not rule out launching a strip in syndication,” Griffiths said.

But Griffiths said he and his team are concentrating on making creative multiplatform distribution arrangements that enable all players to make a buck.

As for the projects on the company’s development docket, reality dating skein “Hooking Up” is one of several series MGM is developing for Showtime.

Jonathan Stack will exec produce the show, which follows a group of L.A. singles who meet once a week at a Beverly Hills bar to talk about their personal lives. The singles are tracked throughout the week as they go out on dates.

MGM has a long-standing relationship with Showtime. The companies pioneered the pay TV-to-syndication distribution model with “Outer Limits” and “Stargate SG-1.” “Outer Limits” now preems on basic cabler Sci Fi, for which MGM produced an original seventh season, and then in syndication. MGM is waiting to hear on an eighth season order from Sci Fi.

Also at Showtime, MGM produces the new skein “Leap Years” and will deliver “Jeremiah,” likely for an early 2002 start.

As part of the theatrical output deal MGM and Showtime have forged, the companies also have agreed to work on original series together.

Case load

“Twisted Justice,” a daily half-hour concept exec produced by Ron Ziskin (“American Gladiators”), highlights three legal cases per episode. Attorney to the stars Howard Weitzman then leads a panel discussion with a guest celeb panelist and two man-on-the-street participants before a studio aud.

Cases will “bring awareness that although we have the greatest justice system, it can go wrong — civilly, criminally, morally,” Cohen said. The studio aud will vote each episode to have one of the three cases investigated and highlighted in an update during a future episode.

Cohen said he hopes to see the show go to a basic cabler first, then roll it out in syndication.

The rights to “Spartacus,” a weekly hour gladiator concept that creator Neil Russell had set up at Pearson Television last year, landed with MGM this summer after interest had been shown in the project by competitors.

Cohen said MGM is talking to writers and showrunners about “Spartacus,” which will be lensed in Australia. Vehicle is aimed at cable and/or syndication.

Basic cabler American Movie Classics has ordered a pilot for “Picture This,” a show focusing on themed pics. Host duties are provided by Johny Uzarek and Randy Kagan, who were featured in MGM’s “Enquirer” when it was relaunched as “National Enquirer’s Uncovered.”

Rainbow coalition

AMC is owned by Rainbow Networks, with which MGM struck an alliance recently. Cohen said his division is actively developing for the company’s outlets.

Among the series TV adaptations of MGM theatricals are “Fame,” for which ABC has ordered a pilot script, and “It’s a Mad Mad Mad Mad World,” for which no deal yet has been hatched.

MGM also is continuing to work on a “Thomas Crown Affair” pilot script for NBC, while a “Legally Blonde” series spinoff is being mulled internally. MGM also is established in the network biz through its deal to rep NBC Studios shows internationally.

While MGM has always had a strong presence in telepics and mini-series, garnering Emmys for such projects as the “12 Angry Men” remake, the TV division is revving up its efforts in that area as well.

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