Big picture for Hallmark

Net nabs 39 theatricals

The Hallmark Channel is using Brad Pitt and some famous penguins to make its first inroad into the network window for theatrical movies.

Warner Bros. Domestic Cable has sold basic-cable rights to “Troy,” “March of the Penguins” and 37 other titles — both newer pictures and library titles — to Hallmark Channel for a total license fee of about $30 million.

The reason “Troy” and “Penguins” stand out is that Hallmark gets the first play of both, slating the first runs of “Troy” later this summer in a one-year exclusive window and the first runs of “Penguins” during the Thanksgiving/Christmas holidays in a two-year exclusive license term.

Hallmark is in effect getting both the pay-TV window and the basic-cable window to “Penguins,” because as a documentary distributed by Warner Independent Pictures, it’s not part of the HBO output deal with Warner Bros. Pictures.

“This is the first time Hallmark has ever made this kind of a first-play deal for theatrical movies on the level of ‘Troy’ and ‘March of the Penguins,’ ” said Dave Kenin, executive VP of programming for the Hallmark Channel.

The only other comparable deal for movies in the seven-year history of the Hallmark Channel was the February 2003 purchase of cable rights to 150 family-oriented pictures from Buena Vista TV. But Hallmark got no first plays of any of the Disney titles, the bulk of which were library product.

“We need to step up to buy theatrical movies,” said Kenin. Those titles will supplement the dozens of original movies Hallmark commissions every year and the off-network series it schedules, such as “Walker, Texas Ranger,” “MASH” and “Diagnosis Murder.”

Some other Warner Bros. movies that will go first to Hallmark in the cable window are “Andrew Lloyd Webber’s The Phantom of the Opera,” “Kangaroo Jack,” “Alex & Emma” and the Olson twins’ “New York Minute.”

But the bulk of the pictures migrate to Hallmark after they’ve already run on other networks. These include “Miss Congeniality,” “The In-Laws,” “The Bridges of Madison County,” “Michael,” “City Slickers” and the original “Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory.”

The exclusive windows Hallmark gets to these titles range in length from as short as two months to as long as two years. The network gets access to about 20% of the pictures for immediate play.

Most of the movies are aimed at a family audience. The exceptions, like the R-rated “Troy,” will undergo some heavy scissoring, particularly of the sex scenes, said Kenin, adding that, even with the edits, the movie will carry parental advisories when the network runs it.

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