This development season, quite a few filmmakers have decided that TV is good.
The success of "ER" and "Homicide: Life on the Street" set the stage for the cross-pollination of TV and film talent that appears to be almost the norm this spring.
Most recently, ABC announced a two-year deal with film director Martin Scorsese to develop and produce TV series, including a 13-episode commitment to one written by Nick Pileggi and slated to air next midseason or fall 1999.
"Television is an exciting medium that reaches and influences millions of people every day," Mr. Scorsese says. "Through it, you can deal with so many important and controversial subjects that we are challenged by this opportunity."
WHO'S WHO LIST
In coming to TV, Mr. Scorsese joins filmmakers and screenwriters Sydney Pollack, currently developing the drama pilot "Grand Concourse" for CBS; "ER's" Michael Crichton and Steven Spielberg; "Homicide's" Barry Levinson; "Buffy, the Vampire Slayer's" Joss Whedon; "Dawson's Creek's" Kevin Williamson; and Barry Sonnenfeld, producer of ABC's summer series "Maximum Bob," just to name a few.
These are directors, writers and producers at the top of their form in film. Mr. Spielberg's resume goes without saying, while young writers like Mr. Whedon ("Toy Story," "Alien Resurrection") and Mr. Williamson ("Scream," "I Know What You Did Last Summer") are in heavy demand even without their TV duties.
"For a lot of these people, it's an opportunity to exercise their creativity in multiple ways at the same time," says Garry Hart, president of Paramount Network Television, which is producing Mr. Pollack's "Grand Concourse."
Added Anita Addison, CBS VP of dramatic series development: "The schedule is the kind of thing that attracts people. You can still pursue your feature career. While it takes two, three, four years to get a feature made; in TV, the same thing can happen in six months."
Speaking at a recent Hollywood Radio & Television Society luncheon, Bedford Falls Co. Producer Marshall Herskovitz noted that TV hits a far larger audience compared to film.
"Every week you're reaching 30 million people," he says. "If you do the math on a movie, if it made $80 million then 14 million people saw that movie once. I grew up thinking that movies were the great influence on the culture. But they go by so quickly."
Of course, the money isn't so bad either. In an age where NBC pays $13 million an episode for "ER," and stars such as Tim Allen command $1.25 million per episode for "Home Improvement," film is no longer the only place to find big bucks.
On top of it all, TV will usually pay a premium to attract proven talent such as Mr. Scorsese.
Still, according to Mr. Hart, "For the top-notch movie people, it's not about the money. Although they'll all have ownership positions in the show, I don't think it's the money that's drawing them."
Filmmakers working in TV are nothing new. But the number of producers, directors and writers from the movie community developing pilots -- mostly drama -- for next season is unprecedented.
"We've had good success showing these people, allowing these people to know that TV can be an exciting medium," says Bruce Vinokour, the Creative Artists Agency executive who packaged Mr. Pollack's deal with CBS, among others.
CAA clients include Mr. Scorsese, Mr. Sonnenfeld, Mr. Spielberg and Mr. Crichton, and Robert DeNiro, whose Tribeca film company produced the miniseries "Witness to the Mob" for NBC.
Besides Mr. Pollack, Mark Johnson ("Rain Man") has "L.A. Doctors" at CBS; J.J. Abrams ("Regarding Henry") and Matt Reeves ("The Pallbearer") have "Felicity" at WB; David Seltzer ("Punchline") has "Cold Feet" at NBC; Phillip Noyce ("The Saint") has "Repair Shop" at CBS; and Wes Craven ("Nightmare on Elm Street") has "Hollyweird" at Fox.
Most executives credit "ER" and "Homicide" with showing filmmakers the upside of TV.
" `Homicide' helped a lot," Ms. Addison says. "The list of directors they brought to episodic TV was incredible. That did a lot to direct directors to the pilot medium."
Original cable productions also provided a bridge to network, she says. Some filmmakers have tested the TV waters first by creating films for HBO or Turner Network Television before developing projects for the broadcast networks.
But moving to TV isn't always that easy for filmmakers. Some of them, accustomed to big-budgeted scripts and lengthy films, feel stifled by the rigid 44-minute limitation of the drama series.
"A director from features used to be unheard of," Ms. Addison says. "They'd say, `My God, 14 days. Who can do 14 days?' To mount a whole production, to shoot a whole pilot was impossible in the minds of many feature writers.
"Sometimes having done a feature can be as much of a detriment. They don't know if they can make a schedule, or they're just walking through the motions because they feel like they're doing you a favor."
The next wave of the future may be what's called a "limited series," like the HBO drama "From the Earth to the Moon," executive-produced by Tom Hanks. "From the Earth to the Moon" was produced as 12 one-hour segments, for example.
Mr. Scorsese's pact with ABC allows for the development of limited series and miniseries as well.
"That's the beauty of TV," Mr. Vinokour says. "What other medium affords you that many hours to tell a story?"
Mr. Schneider is a staff reporter for Electronic Media.