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Mark Johnson’s Gran Via spreads TV wings

Shingle fields CBS, Fox drama prospects through Sony Pictures TV pact

There may be no contempo series with more street cred in the creative community than “Breaking Bad,” and producer Mark Johnson is looking to build on that foundation with a focused effort this development season to expand his Gran Via Prods. banner in TV. The company is fielding drama pilot prospects for CBS and Fox through its first-look pact with Sony Pictures TV, which is also home to “Bad.”

Gran Via also just secured a series order from Sundance Channel for “Rectify,” a drama that Johnson has nurtured for years and marks the cabler’s first foray into scripted series (Daily Variety, Nov. 1).

The push to grow its TV biz comes even as Johnson and his team prep for the release of four features over the next year, including David Chase’s film helming debut with Par’s “Twylight Zones.”

Johnson has moved freely between film and TV for years. But as the development cycle for the 2011-12 season began this summer, he and Gran Via’s TV development chief Melissa Bernstein set their sights on getting contenders going at the Big Four nets.

“Melissa and I decided about a year ago that we just wanted to do more,” Johnson told Variety. “We couldn’t be more proud of ‘Breaking Bad,’ and I think part of the satisfaction of doing that show is the response from writers, directors and showrunners. We said to ourselves ‘Let’s take advantage of that enthusiasm.’?”

The CBS project hails from former “Criminal Minds” scribes Debra J. Fisher and Andrew Wilder. “Cold-Blooded” revolves around a pair of married private eyes who solve crimes in Alaska. Or as Bernstein describes it, drawing from the “Friday Night Lights” playbook: “It’s Eric and Tami Taylor in Alaska.”

The Fox drama, from “Justified” writer Taylor Elmore, is a high-octane soap dubbed “The Bridge,” set on a Navy aircraft carrier with a touch of “Upstairs Downstairs” to the storytelling technique. Elmore mentioned the idea as an aside in a general meeting with Johnson and Bernstein. He prefaced it by saying it was a passion project that he didn’t think had any chance of selling.

“It was the one that got him going, and that got us going,” Bernstein said.

Johnson credits Bernstein and Gran Via’s other TV exec, Mark Ceryak, with executing the company’s vision in TV, which allows him to juggle so many projects. UTA, which reps Gran Via for television, has also been instrumental in setting them up with promising writers and intriguing project pitches, he said.

“I talk to my contemporaries who often complain about the business now is not anything like it used to be,” said Johnson. “I don’t think it’s any tougher than it used to be. I find that it’s a great challenge to get things made, but that’s the time when you sit with a filmmaker and say, ‘Should we do it as a movie? Should we do it as a TV movie? Should it be a series?’ … There’s not a serious filmmaker out there who is not completely open to TV for the right opportunity.”

Broadcast TV reps a particularly high bar for developing material that is creatively distinctive yet broad enough to draw the wide aud that the major nets demand. But that’s no reason not to try.

“One of the reasons we have this new thrust is that network TV is exciting. There’s some very good stuff out there,” Johnson said. “The requirements are different and the discipline is different. But why not try to flex those muscles?”

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