April 22, 1999

'Taken' to Sci-Fi

Spielberg to produce mini for Diller

By John Dempsey, Variety

NEW YORK — Steven Spielberg will exec produce “Taken,” an epic 20-hour miniseries focusing on alien abductions, for Barry Diller’s Sci-Fi Channel.

Spielberg’s DreamWorks Television will produce the mini, which will be based on reports of UFO landings in New Mexico dating back to 1947, in a joint venture with USA Networks, parent of the Sci-Fi Channel. Studios USA will get the domestic-distribution rights to “Taken” and DreamWorks will get foreign rights.

Diller, chairman and CEO of USA Networks, told Daily Variety all revenues harvested from selling the program “will go into a central pot to be divided equally” between Studios USA and DreamWorks.

“Steven has always had an interest in this subject,” Diller said, referring to alien visitors, which figured prominently in Spielberg’s “Close Encounters of the Third Kind” and “ET.”

Diller said Spielberg’s treatment starts from the premise “that there are abductions, that they’re real and not made up. This will be a big story with multiple characters, protagonists and antagonists, and it’ll span lots of decades.”

“Taken,” which will cost upward of $40 million, will begin production this summer. The director and cast are still to be named. The Sci-Fi Channel plans to schedule “Taken” in the third quarter of 2000, running it for two hours a night over 10 consecutive nights.

Elaborate miniseries

Sci-Fi is touting the project as the most elaborate miniseries ever put into production in the U.S. The only comparable program was the 24-hour “Centennial” saga from James Michener’s novel that Universal produced for NBC in 1978-79. But Sci-Fi regards “Centennial” as a series because NBC scheduled it once a week rather than on consecutive nights. Paramount’s “The Winds of War,” based on Herman Wouk’s novel, ran on ABC for 18 hours over seven consecutive nights in February 1983.

HBO’s Emmy-winning “From the Earth to the Moon,” from Tom Hanks and Imagine Entertainment, ran 12 hours last year.

The “Taken” miniseries fits in with the Sci-Fi Channel’s aggressive ramping up of its annual programming budget, from $60 million in 1998 to a projected $90 million in 1999 and a projected $120 million in 2000.

The network schedules four hours of original programming every Friday starting at 8 p.m. with the Henson/Hallmark “Farscape,” followed by “Sliders,” the Francis Ford Coppola-produced “First Wave” and “Poltergeist: The Legacy.”

In a statement, Spielberg called himself a fan of the Sci-Fi Channel, and said “no other place” is better suited for a miniseries of the “magnitude” of “Taken.”


Move Over, Mulder, Here Comes Spielberg

by Marcus Errico

April 22, 1999, 5:35 p.m. PT

Steven Spielberg's pulling a Mulder.

The filmmaker behind Close Encounters of the Third Kind and E.T. is again tracking down little green men, executive producing a massive $40 million, 20-hour miniseries about alien-abduction for the Sci-Fi Channel.

Slated to be one of the biggest TV events ever, the project, titled Taken, will chase UFOs from Roswell, New Mexico, in the 1940s up through Y2K, interviewing several characters and storylines.

"As a 20-hour miniseries, the project can give us the opportunity to involve viewers in a way that combines the narrative scope of movies with the luxury of unfolding that adventure over a much longer period of time," Spielberg says in a statement.

No word yet on stars or a director, but Spielberg will get things rolling this summer, hoping for a third quarter showing next year.

The Sci-Fi Channel is planning on running Taken for two hours per night over 10 consecutive days.

That makes the miniseries one of the biggest TV events ever, behind the 24-hour adaptation of James Michener's Centennial on NBC in 1978. Herman Wouks' The Winds of War ran 18 hours on ABC in 1983 and 1998's Emmy-winning From the Earth to the Moon lasted 12 hours on HBO.

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