Sci Fi high on minis

Bender, Brown to produce 'Earthsea' for cabler

The Sci Fi Channel has closed a deal with Lawrence Bender (“The Mexican”) and Kevin Brown (“Roswell”) to produce a big-budget miniseries based on the first three novels of the “Earthsea” saga by Ursula Le Guin.

“Projects like ‘Earthsea’ are important to us,” said Bonnie Hammer, president of the Sci Fi Channel. “We want the showbiz community to stand up and take notice that Sci Fi Channel is no longer that little cabler you don’t have to pay attention to.”

” ‘Earthsea’ is one of the most influencial sci-fi fantasy series ever,” Brown said. “You see elements of it in everything from ‘Star Wars’ to ‘Harry Potter.’ We hope to show with this mini-series why the original is still the best. The Sci Fi Channel really stepped up in a big way for this project.”

Hammer describes the “Earthsea” books as “pure fantasy novels that set up a phenomenal, magical world similar to the ‘Rings’ trilogy of J.R.R. Tolkein and the Harry Potter novels.”

Scripter wanted

Sci Fi is now seeking a writer to adapt the first three Le Guin novels: “The Wizard of Earthsea,” “Tales of Earthsea” and “Tombs of Atuan.” The sixth novel in the series, “The Other Wind,” comes out this fall.

Once the script comes in, Hammer said Sci Fi will decide whether to produce “Earthsea” inhouse or to solicit the involvement of a major studio. “It depends on how much money we want to allocate to the miniseries,” she said.

The William Morris Agency negotiated Le Guin’s pact on behalf of the Virginia Kidde Agency.

The record Nielsen ratings Sci Fi harvested for its six-hour miniseries “Frank Herbert’s Dune” in December may have convinced the network that producing original miniseries and promoting them as special events will ramp up the visibility of Sci Fi.

Taken with Spielberg

The highlight of Sci Fi’s forthcoming schedule is “Taken,” a miniseries from Steven Spielberg and DreamWorks that will stretch to 20 hours. Other projects include a six-hour sequel to “Dune,” a four-hour sequel to Stephen King’s “Firestarter” novel and theatrical movie, and a four-hour adaptation of the Kim Stanley Robinson novel “Red Mars.”

Hammer said her focus is on sci-fi novels that are known throughout the world because Sci Fi will sign foreign broadcasters as equity partners in these projects to help defray the considerable production cost.