CBS appeared to have the field to itself when the network leaped into developing a miniseries about the life of the late John Paul II within days of his funeral this spring. But given the extraord­inary appeal of the Pope’s story, maybe the latest news on the papal miniseries front was inevitable.
Now ABC is rushing a rival production into the works. And it appears that the network has already made up the ground it lost by letting CBS make the first move. ABC already has a script ready to go and is set to start shooting later this month. That could mean the finished project would be ready to air as early as the November sweeps. CBS, which has not scheduled a start date for its production, will have to hustle to keep up.
The friction involved in competing projects extends beyond the network level: Key members in both production teams once worked together on the miniseries Jesus that aired on CBS in 2000. Ettore Bernabei, president of the Italian production company Lux Vide, is driving the CBS Pope project, while Jesus executive producers Lorenzo Minoli and Judd Parkin are working with ABC.
Unlike the scene at the Vatican a few weeks ago, the smoke rising from this competition won’t have anyone cheering.