TNT Seeks Epic Impact From Spielberg Series

Don't expect to see traditional scripted series on Turner Network Television any time soon: The drama-based service will instead rely on original, limited-run skeins to supplement its acquired programming fare and live sports events.

The first of what is expected to be a number of limited series over the next few years is a 12-hour, Steven Spielberg-produced epic about the settling of the American West, scheduled to premiere in summer 2005, according to TNT executive vice president and general manager Steve Koonin.

TNT is currently on a ratings tear — the network again garnered the highest primetime rating among all ad-supported networks in July — despite the fact that it doesn't have an original scripted series on its lineup. Koonin said TNT will pursue short-run series with top film and television producers such as Spielberg, rather than take a chance on risky and costly scripted series.

TNT's last original series, Witchblade, was cancelled in 2002.

"The series model that everybody's working in doesn't work well for us," Koonin said. "We're having tremendous success with a different strategy of big movies, big sports and big [acquired] series.

"We can fill a summer with Spielberg and maybe another part of the year with another series — there's more than one way to do television, and were going to it the way that fits us the best."

Koonin said TNT will most likely develop one or two limited series per year.

As for the Spielberg project, Koonin said he had been negotiating with the acclaimed producer for four months prior to last week's announcement.

The untitled project will be the first collaboration between the prolific producer, DreamWorks Television and the general-entertainment network. DreamWorks co-heads Darryl Frank and Justin Falvey are co-executive producers.

Koonin would not reveal a production budget, but sources said it could cost around $60 million, making it one of the most expensive basic-cable projects in history. Taken
— the successful Spielberg-produced 10-part miniseries for Sci Fi Channel, which two weeks ago garnered five 2003 Emmy nominations — cost some $40 million to produce.

Although based on the old West, Koonin said the project is atypical of traditional western movie and series fare.

"What Spielberg has done with World War II, what he's done with the Holocaust and what he's done with Sci Fi, he's going to do for the American West being settled," Koonin said. "This is not a Monte Walsh
or Crossfire Trail
type, but a study of the West that could begin as early as the Mexican-American War and extend through the land and gold rush to the Civil War."

In addition to the TNT project, Spielberg is collaborating with Sci Fi on a second science fiction-oriented project scheduled to premiere in late 2004 or early 2005.

The director is also rumored to be working with Home Box Office on an undisclosed project, although officials deny the premium network is teaming on any shows with Spielberg.

Spielberg and DreamWorks teamed with HBO two years ago to develop the award-winning miniseries Band of Brothers.

Sci Fi plans to re-air Taken starting Sept. 28.

R. Thomas Umstead

R. Thomas Umstead serves as senior content producer, programming for Multichannel News, Broadcasting + Cable and Next TV. During his more than 30-year career as a print and online journalist, Umstead has written articles on a variety of subjects ranging from TV technology, marketing and sports production to content distribution and development. He has provided expert commentary on television issues and trends for such TV, print, radio and streaming outlets as Fox News, CNBC, the Today show, USA Today, The New York Times and National Public Radio. Umstead has also filmed, produced and edited more than 100 original video interviews, profiles and news reports featuring key cable television executives as well as entertainers and celebrity personalities.