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New Deal in the DreamWorks for Harbert

TIMES STAFF WRITER

A few days after officially concluding his 20-year tenure at ABC, former entertainment chairman Ted Harbert is entering into a production deal with DreamWorks SKG.

Harbert declined possible opportunities to become an executive at another network or major studio to sign an exclusive 2 1/2-year agreement with DreamWorks--a move that won’t take him far from home: Not only does DreamWorks have an existing partnership with ABC, but he’ll begin immediately as a producer on a comedy starring Arsenio Hall, which Harbert ordered while at the network.

Well-regarded as an executive, Harbert has strong ties in TV’s creative community, which should help him forge relationships with producers to develop programs and then sell them to the networks.

Harbert will not have specific executive responsibilities. DreamWorks’ TV arm is headed by Dan McDermott.

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“I believe strongly in the idea of a smaller, independent studio concentrating on a smaller number of projects,” Harbert said, adding that such focus is now necessary “to try and make the batting average better” on new shows.

Harbert announced plans to exit ABC in early January, leaving ABC Entertainment President Jamie Tarses running the division, which has seen ratings drop sharply during the last year. At the time, Harbert cited a desire to expand his learning curve.

Harbert had latitude in making his next career move, having received more than $7 million settling his ABC contract, which doesn’t include stock options he and other senior executives cashed in after ABC’s acquisition by Walt Disney Co.

DreamWorks--the partnership of Steven Spielberg, David Geffen and Jeffrey Katzenberg--also produces the ABC series “Spin City” and “High Incident,” as well as the Ted Danson comedy “Ink” for CBS.

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Harbert will oversee “Arsenio” with Hall and producer Tim O’Donnell, who took over when series creator David Rosenthal abruptly left after a tiff with the star. The show will premiere in March.

Beyond the addition of Harbert, Tarses’ younger brother, Matt, is expected to join “Arsenio’s” writing staff. Matt Tarses recently worked on the short-lived CBS sitcom “Public Morals,” which was produced by his father, Jay Tarses.


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