Sundance deal a ‘Beauty’

Net scores rights to Cohen biopic

NEW YORK — Sundance Channel has landed exclusive TV rights to “Came So Far From Beauty,” a documentary on the career of singer-songwriter Leonard Cohen, with Mel Gibson as an exec producer.

In a luncheon to discuss the web’s programming plans for 2005-06, exec VP of programming and marketing Laura Michalchyshyn said she has locked up a shared window with John Malone’s Starz! to hit foreign film “The Motorcycle Diaries.”

The network has also bought exclusive pay TV rights to the independent theatrical movies “Mysterious Skin,” “The Corporation,” “Tarnation” and “Tell Them Who You Are.”

For “Beauty” producer Lions Gate TV lined up interviews with recording stars Bono, Willie Nelson, Emmylou Harris and Marianne Faithful and movie directors Robert Altman and Wim Wenders, all talking about their connection to Cohen. There’s no decision yet about whether to release “Beauty” to theaters in advance of the Sundance run in 2006.

Also in development at the network are “Culture Shock,” an irreverent weekly half-hour series dealing with the media as a tool for manipulation; “Addict Nation,” an R.J. Cutler-produced limited docu series that would follow five people in the throes of an addiction (prescription pills, shopping, sex, plastic surgery and gambling); “The Whitest Kids U Know,” an improv-comedy series featuring the five comedians who perform under the “Whitest Kids…” title; and “Best Documentaries,” a half-hour series in which filmmaker Michael Gregory Best will take on contemporary cultural topics.

Larry Aidem, prexy-CEO of Sundance Channel, said the net has ramped up its programming budget to take on all of these projects. He declined to discuss dollar figures because the network is privately held. (It’s a joint venture of Viacom, NBC Universal and Robert Redford.) But Sundance’s program expenses could approach $20 million in the next year.

Sundance has 23 million subscribers, who pay an average of 29¢ a month. That’s the web’s sole source of revenue because it doesn’t accept advertising.

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