Inside Move: HBO plans b’cast exports

HIP preps Soluna skein but unit's future is uncertain

HBO is looking to take another stab at aggressively pushing its brand into the broadcast network arena.

Insiders said the pay cabler is mulling several revamps for its HBO Independent Prods. shingle and is actively searching for a programming whiz to lead the renewed unit. HIP, which produces “Everybody Loves Raymond,” is producing a pilot (with de Passe Entertainment) at UPN starring the Latina singing group Soluna.

Such a unit would work closely with HBO’s development team but focus on programming for the broadcast nets and other non-HBO entities.

Move to remake or even disband HBO Independent Prods. wouldn’t come as a complete surprise. Imprint failed to develop anything of note at ABC despite signing a heavily publicized first-look deal at the Alphabet web two years ago (Daily Variety, Aug. 5, 2002).

And HBO later dropped out of the one project that did emanate from that deal, Tom Fontana/Barry Levinson/James Yoshimura legal drama “The Jury.” That show moved to Fox in a quid pro quo arrangement with ABC. In exchange for the services of Ted Harbert, who has a deal at 20th Century Fox TV but was producing a Jessica Simpson project that the Alphabet net wanted, ABC traded off to Fox any rights it had to “The Jury.”Twentieth Century Fox TV then took over production of the show, which airs this summer.

Sources said Russell Schwartz, exec VP of creative affairs, business and planning at HBO Independent Prods., remains at the pay cabler. But big-name creative types considered potential candidates to head up the new entity include former Fox exec Tracy Katsky, who drew raves for her HBO-style programming (“Arrested Development”) while heading up the net’s comedy development.

Still unclear is the fate of the production unit. The cabler could conceivably disband HBO Independent Prods. altogether in favor of a new setup, although sources believe the restructuring will be more a “metamorphosis” than a wholesale change.

Besides “Raymond,” which HBO Independent Prods. co-produces with Worldwide Pants, the pay cabler arm has produced hits such as the Fox laffers “Martin” and “Roc.”

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