ABC plans TV movies made by Levinson, Scorsese, others

July 16, 1998|By David Zurawik | David Zurawik,SUN TELEVISION CRITIC

PASADENA, Calif. -- As a new programming strategy, ABC is going to the movies this fall and it's lined up Barry Levinson, Norman Mailer, Martin Scorsese, Christopher Reeve and Oprah Winfrey in an attempt to make it work.

Stu Bloomberg and Jamie Tarses, the chairman and president respectively of ABC Entertainment, told critics here yesterday that one of the ways they plan to dig out of third place in the ratings is by offering viewers more and better made-for-television movies. Many of those productions will be used as counterprogramming against NBC's "must-see" lineup of hit sitcoms and "ER" on Thursday night.

"Finally, we have a movie package that's strong and vibrant," Bloomberg said.

"Network audience erosion is still a fact. But, we know whenever we bring big events to television -- such as last season's "When Women Had Wings," "Cinderella" and "The Wedding" -- the audience will come."

Among the big-event made-for-TV movies announced by ABC are:

* "American Tragedy": a drama directed by Levinson and scripted by Mailer about life backstage in the O.J. Simpson trial. The film will be based on the book by Lawrence Schiller and James Willwerth, with Mailer doing the adaptation. Levinson, Tom Fontana and Schiller are executive producers.

* "Rear Window": Christopher Reeve will star in this remake of the Hitchcock classic about a man confined to a wheelchair who believes he has witnessed a murder through his apartment window.

* "Brothers": Martin Scorsese teams up with writer Nick Pileggi ("Casino" and "Goodfellas") for this film about two brothers from a close-knit Italian family.

* "Oprah Winfrey Presents: David & Lisa": Sidney Poitier, Lukas Haas and Brittany Murphy star in this remake of the classic love story by Frank and Eleanor Perry about two teens living at a school for disturbed youth.

Winfrey's name over the title brought huge audiences to ABC last year for "The Wedding" and "Before Women Had Wings."

* "John Sandford's Mind Prey": Eriq La Salle ("ER") stars as the Minneapolis police detective Lucas Davenport in the first of a series of films based on Sandford's best-selling "Prey" novels.

* "Cleopatra": ABC's big-ticket mini-series this year comes from Robert Halmi, producer of "Gulliver's Travels" and "The Odyssey" for NBC. It is based on the best-selling novel "The Memoirs of Cleopatra" by Margaret George.

* "Tom Clancy's Netforce": Scott Bakula, Kris Kristofferson and CCH Pounder star in this mini-series about an FBI unit created in the year 2005 to deal with computer crime on the Internet.

All will air during the 1998-1999 television season, Bloomberg said. Specific dates were announced yesterday for "Oprah Winfrey's David & Lisa" on Nov. 1 and "Rear Window" on Nov. 22.

Pub Date: 7/16/98

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