New company eyes longform TV

Robert Duvall miniseries first project on slate

Former Showtime programming president Jerry Offsay has come on board at a newly launched production company, America Saga Prods., that seeks to resurrect longform television content.

The company's first project is "The Line," a four-hour miniseries starring and directed by Robert Duvall. ASP will shop the project to networks in the next couple of weeks while proposing a financial arrangement whereby producers will shoulder all of the production costs in exchange for sharing first-year advertising revenue.

Offsay was brought aboard the company by founder and chairman Michael Leighton, who also tapped producer Nick Grillo to run production. ASP was born as an affiliate of Sentinel America Corp., an investment company chaired by Leighton. The group has secured private financing, including a $15 million budget for "Line," and claim about eight other projects in development that are slated for about $8 million each.

The executives said they are confident they can find network buyers for their planned projects and added that producing a miniseries without a previous agreement also is an option given the number of alternative outlets including international buyers and home video.

"We're not looking for funding from the networks, we don't want any license fees," Leighton said. "It's just good business to know somebody wants the product when it's finished."

Nobody in the industry has balked at their ad-sharing model, Leighton added, and Offsay pointed to MRC taking over the CW's Sunday night programming block as an example of how network deals are no longer one size fits all.

"We think we're going to be the next new innovative deal that comes out of the woodwork," Offsay said. "We have the intention to maximize the revenue for everybody and do it in a most sensible fashion."

The group also hopes its formation will result in more quality longform projects, with many of these having been shelved in recent years as networks reduce their movie divisions.

Each ASP project has a heroic, Americana theme -- ranging from historical biopics to tackling current issues. The group will shy away from topics relying heavily on sex or violence.

"It's material that shows the good side of being an American but can be literally any topic or story," Leighton said. "These are not vanilla projects."

"Line" centers on American-Mexican border tensions, with Duvall playing a Department of Agriculture "tick rider" who patrols the border for pests. Duvall's character unintentionally becomes the target of Mexican drug lords, the Mexican police, the FBI and Texas Rangers. The project is executive produced by Rob Carliner and written by Alan Geoffrion, both of whom worked on Duvall's Emmy-winning "Broken Trail."

"It's a classic Western chase movie, it will exasperate everybody because the (immigration) issues exasperate everybody," Offsay said. "It's a wonderful kickoff project."