Familiarity breeds success

Leveraging known brands helps programs resonate with audiences

To most, New Line is all about Mike Meyers or Adam Sandler. Yet the company known for building film franchises is busily designing similarly long-running vehicles for television.

Fired up in 1991, New Line Television was initially envisioned as a straight movie supplier to broadcast stations, keeping New Line Cinema syndication profits in-house for such hits as Sandler's The Wedding Singer, Meyers' Austin Powers: International Man of Mystery
and the studio's remake of Lost in Space.

However, the division's President Robert Friedman and Executive Vice President David Spiegelman thought they could do more than just package films.

With the resources of a film studio at their fingertips, "wouldn't it make sense for us to take advantage of movie scripts that weren't going to make it as a movie?" Friedman remembers asking himself. "Take a script that would have been thrown in the garbage can, saving any losses on it by making it into television?"

Of course, it's always rocky building a TV studio from the ground up. The duo did fine with CBS-animated show The Mask, based on New Line's Jim Carrey-starring film of the same name. But they misfired with their 1995 first-run syndication debut, Court TV: Inside America's Courts, a short-lived weekly series looking behind-the-scenes at criminal trials, jointly developed with the Court TV cable channel.

But New Line Television found its stride with Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's The Lost World, currently one of the top-rated action hours, entering its third syndicated season in fall 2001.

"I think it's very difficult to compete in the marketplace today when you're developing a new franchise from scratch," acknowledges Friedman, who knows that New Line, without partnered station outlets, has more of an uphill battle than most trying to score a syndicated hit with viewers. "One of the things we knew we had to do was borrow from a known brand like Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's The Lost World
that would carry some sort of resonance with consumers."

Friedman is aiming for similar success next season with a follow-up action hour, Hard Knox, a martial-arts/romantic comedy starring Melrose Place's Thomas Calabro and Six Million Dollar Man
Lee Majors.

Admittedly, "we're creating Hard Knox
from scratch, but we think that it shares some of those things that give it a chance to become a branded franchise," says Friedman. "The show itself felt like a feature film. And you have someone who is very popular from Melrose Place, and you have Lee Majors, who has a big fan base. We have credibility, borrowing from the things that people know."

Trying to sum up New Line TV's overall strategy, Friedman says, "Certainly, younger, edgier products seem to work better for New Line, both in feature film and in television. The most important thing we do is have a certain attitude that we can do some things better than others."

Spiegelman adds, "We'll look at strips and weeklies. We'll look at daytime programming. We'll look at access and late fringe. We're open to any kind of programming."

Although New Line Television seems to be growing into a regular ol' competitive TV studio, Friedman thinks that's not the whole picture. New Line Television doesn't want to be a simple producer of syndicated shows.

"Our point of view going to NATPE is a little different from the other studios'," he says. "We've combined a lot of our efforts and broken down a lot of walls between [developing] for network television, syndication and cable."

For instance, Friedman will be pitching to stations show concepts based on current programming on Court TV (a partner channel under New Line's banner company since 1994, Time Warner). He will also be hyping Breaking News, New Line's new series for TNT that integrates Court TV's research capabilities.

Plus, under a joint venture with Warner Bros. Television to develop prime time shows, "much of the stuff that we have in our development there may very well end up in syndication instead," says Friedman. "[There are also times when] we've developed feature films that get turned around to television and vice versa. When we develop a property, we look at its life not only in television but in other media as well."