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Amblin, Turner Reach Deal for TV Movies

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Steven Spielberg’s Amblin Entertainment will produce six original television movies for Turner Network Television in an unusual arrangement that will see the formation of a repertory company to appear in original works by top playwrights. The deal was announced Wednesday by TNT at the Western Cable Show in Anaheim.

Among the writers involved with the TV project, which will appear under the “Showcase Theater” banner, are Tom Stoppard, John Patrick Shanley, David Henry Hwang and Wendy Wasserstein. Each playwright will work directly with Amblin, Spielberg and producer Michael Brandman, according to TNT officials.

Scott Sassa, TNT’s executive vice president, declined to discuss the specific financial arrangements of the deal. But he said each movie is budgeted at less than TNT’s usual cost for original films, which he said is between $3 million and $4 million.

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A large part of the cost savings are due to all six films being shot back to back with the same group of actors, he said. He estimated that production would last five to six months.

Sassa intimated that Turner will own the films, saying, “We always own the negatives” on every deal. He added, “Why do you think it took eight months to negotiate?”

Amblin approached TNT about the project, he said.

TNT, a unit of Turner Broadcasting System, was launched in October, 1988, and offers a round-the-clock schedule of old movies, occasional original productions and some sports programming. It is available in more than 29 million homes.

“Amblin Television’s presentation of ‘Showcase Theater’ will offer playwrights the opportunity to explore the medium of original film making,” said Spielberg, who appeared on a videotape at the TNT news conference.

He said each playwright will be given a crew to work with, along with the repertory company of actors. Each film will also will have a “name” star involved.

Spielberg may direct one of the films but has not committed to it, Sassa said.

The films will run two hours with commercials and will look like movies, not plays, Sassa said. The first work should arrive at TNT in March, 1991, and will probably be telecast on the cable network in the summer of that year. He said he expects to run one of the movies each month after that.

The project is part of TNT’s overall plan to attract non-cable subscribers--particularly upscale, well-educated ones--to cable.

The TNT executive said the door is open to additional films from the venture. “We would hope this could be an ongoing franchise for us,” he said.


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