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USA takes a King-sized ‘Bullet’ ride

Cabler pays $1 mil license fee

NEW YORK — The USA Network, which has scored big Nielsens with TV premieres of busted theatricals loaded with action, has locked up a six-year exclusive deal for “Stephen King’s Riding the Bullet.”

For a license fee of about $1 million, USA has blown out any pay TV window so that it can start playing “Bullet” in a double run Jan. 23, followed by three more plays within the next 10 days.

“Bullet,” starring Jonathan Jackson as a man who’s obsessed by the prospect of his own death, and that of his mother (played by Barbara Hershey), opened in mid-October on 100 screens in a few test markets. When the movie averaged only $1,010 a screen, Motion Picture Corp. of America ended its U.S. theatrical release.

A USA spokesman said the network does not regard the movie’s failure in the theaters as a gauge of its eventual cable TV performance, citing three USA examples of top-rated cable movies from last year:

  • “Belly of the Beast,” an unreleased Steven Seagal movie, which harvested 2.18 million adults 25 to 54 for the movie’s first play on Jan. 25.

  • “Out for a Kill,” another Seagal movie that didn’t make it to U.S. theaters, which chalked up 2.14 million adults 25-54 who watched it on April 25.

  • “In Hell,” a Jean-Claude Van Damme thriller that steered clear of U.S. theaters, which gathered 1.84-million adults 25-54.

Brad Krevoy, CEO of MPCA, said “Bullet,” which also stars David Arquette, Cliff Robertson and Erika Christensen, cost about $10 million to produce and an additional $1 million in prints and advertising for the movie’s limited theatrical run.

“Bullet” is based on a 30-page short story King wrote in 1999 after being run over by a van near his home in Maine. King distributed it exclusively on the Internet as an e-book, and computer users downloaded more than 400,000 copies.

Mick Garis, director and adapter of “Bullet,” worked on movies from five previous King bestsellers.