Busy Lionsgate TV is firing on all cylinders

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Lionsgate Television is preparing itself for a busy summer.

The independent studio is launching its first-ever scripted series for a broadcast network -- the Kevin Williamson-created drama "Hidden Palms" -- at 8 p.m. May 30 on the CW, followed by the series premieres of two cable dramas: "The Kill Point" (formerly known as "The Kill Pit") debuts at 9 p.m. July 22 on Spike TV, and "Mad Men," AMC's first original drama series, also premieres in July.

Kevin Beggs, Lionsgate president of television programming and production, says the studio has come a long way since he was tapped to start up the TV business in 1998, pointing out that it now has a total of seven scripted series on its slate, which also includes Showtime's "Weeds," USA Network's "The Dead Zone," Sci Fi Channel's "The Dresden Files" and ABC Family's "Wildfire." Lionsgate has seen its TV business grow from $8 million in revenue in fiscal-year 2000 to $133 million in fiscal-year 2006.

"Lionsgate is open for business," Beggs says. "We're firing on all cylinders. This is the best team we've ever had and the most scripted series we've ever had."

Beggs is quick to share credit for the studio's overall growth with the TV team, which includes Sandra Stern, COO of television; Barbara Wall, senior vp television; and Craig Cegielski, senior vp programming and sales, international television. On the international side, Beggs says another boost to business was a decision made two years ago that the studio would start handling its own foreign TV distribution.

"Now we are truly controlling our own destiny in the international TV market," he says, adding that shows like "Weeds" have done well overseas.

Beggs notes that it's not easy to be an independent studio in an industry filled with vertical integration. To make itself stand out, Lionsgate takes a different approach when developing projects and pitching the networks.

"We operate in a very efficient, disciplined fashion," he says. "We don't do overall writer deals, and when we come in (to pitch a project), it has to be something extraordinarily different. We produce more efficiently than our counterparts and are willing to explore locations off the beaten path."

Looking ahead, Lionsgate is hoping for good news from this week's upfront with its comedy pilot "Me & Lee?" a contender for next season at Fox, and looking is to create more successful series.

"We're not interested in just creating churn," Beggs says. "We're now focused on creating hits."

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USA Network also has a big premiere at month's end with its limited series "The Starter Wife," written by Sara Parriott and Josann McGibbon and based on Gigi Levangie Grazer's best-selling novel. The six-hour mini, debuting at 9 p.m. May 31, stars Debra Messing as a woman whose life changes dramatically after her husband, a Hollywood studio head, dumps her and she finds herself shunned by most of her friends.

Fortunately, Grazer, an exec producer on the NBC Universal Television Studio project, says real-life Hollywood isn't that shallow.

"From what I've heard from my friends who've gone through this and my own experiences (when she was briefly separated from husband Brian Grazer last year), that didn't happen," she says. "People are very loyal ... and don't want to burn bridges."

As for her producer husband's thoughts on her taking on Tinseltown? "He's got a love-hate relationship with my obsession with Hollywood," she says. "But he's greatly relieved that my next book (the upcoming 'Queen Takes King') is set in New York."
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