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Studio roars into second year with diverse offerings

Unit looks to bite into market without built-in distribution outlet 1/14/2001 07:00:00 PM Eastern

Lions Gate Television has been in business less than a year and does not have a station group partner, but those two facts aren't exactly slowing the company's debut effort into first-run syndication.

Primarily known as a Canada-based independent film studio (recent releases include American Psycho
and Dogma), Lions Gate Entertainment began building a full-fledged TV unit last spring when Jon Feltheimer signed on as its new CEO.

Feltheimer, previously head of Columbia TriStar Television Group, has hefty TV experience. Lions Gate TV's executive vice president, Kevin Beggs, carries a résumé boasting experience producing the syndicated success Baywatch. Plus, Lions Gate's distribution partner, Ira Bernstein, now with Mercury Entertainment, repped long-running action-hour Highlander
while head of Rysher Entertainment.

Without even launching a show, the group has a great track record. But why get into first-run syndication? The business is currently plagued by low-ratings, making it harder for any new company to break in, and could be especially tricky for a group braving independence sans
a built-in distribution outlet.

"In a perfect world we'd love to [have a station group]," admits Beggs. "But there's no reason why we can't be involved with a Tribune station group. I think they'd like to work with us on the right show."

Beggs claims that the TV unit can find strength in diversity, serving up more than just syndicated shows. For example, in the fall the late-night strip Who Wants To Date a Hooters Girl?
and weekend action hour Tracker, starring Highlander
alum Adrian Paul will be offered, and Lions Gate also currently produces Mysterious Ways
in a split broadcast window for NBC and Pax. Additionally, in October, Lions Gate finalized its acquisition of Trimark, doubling its movie library that can funneled to TV stations.

Lions Gate TV also has a development slate which includes a Showtime pilot, Jeremiah, based on a European comic book; USA Network action series Ms. Tree, revolving around a female detective; and a Pax TV series Making A Killing
from Diagnosis Murder
executive producer David Hoffman.

Despite the number of its projects, Lions Gate realizes it's a fledgling company in a tight TV marketplace.

"I don't think that every year you're going to want to launch a new show," notes Beggs. "But if Hooters
is a hit, I'm sure we'll come up with a companion half-hour."

Beggs is ready to cash in on the unit's unusual position. He insists his company's unique ability to entice Highlander's
Paul with a joint TV/film deal locked him in as star of Tracker. Letting Paul headline his own Lions Gate movie is "something that most people couldn't do or wouldn't do based on the structure of their company," says Beggs. "A major studio like Warner Bros. might offer a straight TV play, but they may not have a theatrical component they could offer. At Warner Bros., frankly, I don't think the theatrical guys are waiting in line to help out the TV guys."

The general rule of thumb at Lions Gate is "to walk down the hall to the film division, ask for help in supplying a movie for an actor, and getting it done in a matter of days as opposed to eight months with three different chairmen," says Beggs.

"Efficiency, being nimble and having agility," he adds, "that's something that we're able to do and how we're able to structure our deals. It certainly gets us to the table."

 

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