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MGM Resurrects Dead Like Me

 MGM  Studios just finished wrapping a Dead Like Me direct to DVD movie,  revealed MGM’s Senior Executive Vice President Finance and Corporate Development Charlie Cohen during a chat at the SCI FI Channel/Entertainment Weekly Comic-Con party.

Cohen, who oversees the studio’s new Home Entertainment Productions division along with the studio’s Stargate franchise, said the movie would be released in "about a year."  He also discussed cast changes and said the studio is "open" to producing more movies and even bringing the series back for another television run.

Dead Like Me  - a dark, poignant dramedy that tracked the lives of grim reapers and their survivors - earned good ratings numbers for Showtime and developed a loyal cult following.  But the series was abruptly dumped by the network in December ‘04 after Robert Greenblatt picked up the presidential reins.

Showtime’s reasons for burying the series were never crystal.  The network told Variety that ratings weren’t high enough to warrant a third season.  Yet here on Multichannel, just weeks before the cancellation, Showtime was touting the ratings as three times the net’s prime time average.

Showtime further muddied the waters during the January ‘05 TCA press tour when critics sparred with network executives  over the Dead Like Me cancellation and assertions that they didn’t know their own ratings numbers. 

The network had renewed the now-failed Huff for a second season, even before the series premiered.  Naturally, a critic wanted to know how many viewers were tuning-in.  Chairman and CEO Matthew Blank assured the critics that Huff was "popular" and a "tremendous hit" but when asked to provide a ballpark number for viewers he balked. "I really don’t think we know…" demurred Blank.

"Do you mean to tell us that you’re operating a business flying completely blind with no idea how many people are watching?" asked the incredulous reporter.

"No, no,"  replied Blank. "We do get the linear ratings. We do other kinds of research and we rely on feedback from our cable accounts and our DBS accounts…"

"So how do you operate as a business?" the reporter snapped.

Blank dug himself a deeper hole by saying that critical buzz was more important than ratings anyway.   "But I loved Dead Like Me…," groused another critic, "it got decent reviews…I have no idea what the ratings were because you didn’t share them."

Greenblatt said the show didn’t get universally great reviews.  Neither did The L-Word, pointed out the critic.  The L-Word helps brand us, said Greenblatt.  "Dead people don’t have a constituency, is that what you’re saying?" grumbled the critic.

"Were the numbers that bad?" asked another.

"No, but numbers are not that big a factor," replied Greenblatt.

I chimed-in finally.  "You folks recently told me that Dead Like Me was getting three times your average prime time rating, which seems to be a pretty good showing.  So, how does this show no longer fit with the network?"

"We’re trying to build a new network and a level of - you know - of creative success and sophistication…." responded Greenblatt, "for a show to take up one of our slots, it has to be firing on every level."

The moderator closed the panel at that point but I wondered how a vapid series like Kirstie Alley’s Fat Actress - unveiled at the time - qualified as sophisticated and firing on all levels.

A viewer campaign followed.  Fans costumed as grim reapers protested in front of Showtime’s NY offices.  Over 30,000 signed a petition.  But Showtime held fast to their position.

Finally, creator Bryan Fuller (Heroes, Pushing Daisies) who left the series during the first year over creative differences,  railed in a Media Village interview against what he called MGM’s meddling.

That was then, this is now.  Charlie Cohen assumed his current position at MGM in late 2006 and he’s an enthusiast for the series.

He spouts details in the best fanboy encyclopedic tradition.  (He can tell you everything you could possibly want to know about Stargate and his knowledge of Dead Like Me appears to be equally comprehensive.)

At Comic-Con MGM wrapped ten city buses with MGM promos and at least one was reserved for Dead Like Me.  The buses pulled up in rotation in front of the convention center throughout the four days.  Cohen was clearly pleased by the response.  "All kinds of people who saw that bus came up to our booth," he said, "they’re very excited about it. "

Cohen said that the Dead Like Me film had wrapped "two days ago."  Stephen Herek directed.

Ellen Muth (Georgia) returns as the lead.  "Everyone’s back," said Cohen of the cast, with the exception of Mandy Patinkin (Rube) and Laura Harris (Daisy Adair),

According to Cohen, Henry Ian Cusick (Desmond on Lost) was cast as a new character named Cameron - the head undead who hands out assignments to the reapers, taking over the slot once occupied by Patinkin

Sarah Wynter, (Dead Zone, 24) steps in as Daisy Adair.

If all goes well, Cohen sees more Dead Like Me movies, or perhaps even another television series.   "If it’s a series of movies that’s fine.  If someone saw it and thinks it makes sense to bring it back as an episodic tv series, we’re open to anything,"  he said.

However, MGM has not optioned the cast at this point.

Cohen said Dead Like Me fans can look forward to getting their hands on the DVD in "about a year."  The timing, by the way, is perfect for a Comic-Con 2008 unveiling.

(Click here for bus photos.)