ABC has made a major commitment for next season by ordering a new prime-time series based on the 1994 science-fiction movie "Timecop," the network confirmed.
What's notable about the deal is that ABC committed to produce 13 episodes--for an estimated total of $15 million--based solely on the premise, without stars or even a script attached.
The agreement--made after a bidding war among the networks--also underscores increased pursuit of high-concept action and science-fiction fare after a period in which network programmers seemed lukewarm on such material.
The original movie starred Jean-Claude Van Damme as a 21st century policeman who used a time-travel device to follow criminals into the past and future, seeking to prevent them from changing history. The film was a modest box-office success, grossing roughly $44 million domestically.
The series will be produced by Universal Television with the movie's producer, Larry Gordon, and Robert Singer--executive producer of ABC's "Lois & Clark: The New Adventures of Superman"--overseeing the project. The pilot will be written by Mark Verheidin, who wrote the movie's screenplay based on a story by Mike Richardson of Dark Horse Comics. ABC Entertainment Chairman Ted Harbert acknowledged the deal was "absolutely another example of the frenzied competition between networks" but called the property "a terrific series premise" and "a franchise we can really use."
The networks are looking to such high-profile projects as a means to lure back viewers. Universal recently secured a similar commitment from Fox on "Roar," a mythic adventure from Shaun Cassidy (who created last season's "American Gothic") and Ron Koslow (creator of the CBS series "Beauty and the Beast"). The studio is also teaming with Warner Bros. on another ABC show, a spy series titled "Cloak & Dagger," expected to premiere later this season.
In addition, Fox is developing a series from the producers of its hit movie "Independence Day" dealing with an alien visitor.
Universal has made a strategy of producing such expensive action-adventure fare. The studio distributes two of the top-rated shows in syndication (programs sold directly to local stations, as opposed to networks) in "Hercules: The Legendary Journeys" and "Xena: Warrior Princess." Their popularity has spawned numerous imitators, including series based on Tarzan and Sinbad.
There is considerable financial risk associated with such projects, as Universal and NBC discovered with the failed sci-fi shows "seaQuest DSV" and "Earth 2." Both were produced with Steven Spielberg's Amblin Television.
The "Timecop" deal comes as the networks begin the process of developing programs for next season. Usually, a network orders a script and then produces a prototype, or pilot, before proceeding with a series order.
Sources say multimillion-dollar deals like those on "Timecop" and "Roar" will limit openings for other new shows by taxing network development budgets. That in turn may prompt the networks to cut back on the number of new projects ordered, as CBS did in the comedy area last year after committing to series starring Bill Cosby and Ted Danson, which premiered this fall.
In addition to "Timecop," two ABC shows based on movies--"Clueless" and "Dangerous Minds"--were introduced this season. Both have thus far been at best marginal ratings performers.