The word "epic" just seems to follow Kevin Costner around these days.
Mr. Costner, who won an Academy Award in 1991 for directing the sprawling, three-hour "Dances With Wolves," will direct, star in and produce "The Kentucky Cycle," a six-hour HBO miniseries spanning 200 years of American history. The project was adapted by Robert Schenkkan from his own Pulitzer Prize-winning play, co-produced in 1992 by the Mark Taper Forum.
"In a business of superlatives, this is an amazing day in the history of television," said Bob Cooper, senior vice president of HBO Pictures, who signed off on Mr. Costner's deal Wednesday morning.
Indeed, an American movie star of Mr. Costner's stature -- which may loom even larger this summer when his $175 million sci-fi epic "Waterworld" opens -- doing a TV project at the height of his career is uncommon. And rarely do cable networks acquire the services of premium feature directors.
Mr. Costner was not available for comment, but in a statement released by HBO he said: "The ideas and feelings were so strong that I know this was the voice I was waiting to hear when it came to directing again."
Mr. Costner, who made his directorial debut with "Dances With Wolves," is taking some time off following the recent wrap of "Waterworld."
Securing Mr. Costner for "Kentucky Cycle" ended a year of tireless negotiations for HBO, but it also required compromise. Rather than produce "Kentucky Cycle" itself, as originally intended, and settle on a fee for Mr. Costner's services, HBO turned the complete project over to Mr. Costner's Tig Productions. HBO will pay Tig a license fee for exclusive cable TV rights to the project.
Tig will finance the difference but retain all ownership rights, enabling
Mr. Costner and his partner, Jim Wilson, to make their money on the back end through foreign sales, home-video revenue and future TV rights.
"We've got to make a [spectacular] piece to come out on this, but we will bet on that," Mr. Wilson said. He and Mr. Costner are also producing "500 Nations," an eight-hour documentary about Native Americans, that airs next month on CBS.
"Kentucky Cycle" tells the tale of a blood feud between three families in the Cumberland Mountains of Kentucky. As a nine-act play that unfolded in two parts on stage, it was the first play ever to win a Pulitzer Prize before its New York production.
Stan Margulies, whose credits include "The Thorn Birds" and "Roots," is executive producer for the project. He and HBO acquired the screen rights in 1992.
"Kentucky Cycle" is expected to begin filming in the summer of 1996, to premiere later that year or early 1997.