Par online for 'Section Eight'

Digital unit, Gaumont team for 'Ten Little Indians'-style original series

Paramount's digital unit and French producer-distributor Gaumont are teaming for an online original series that will premiere exclusively on MySpace.

The series, "Section Eight," is a supernatural thriller with a "Ten Little Indians" conceit: Characters are knocked off one by one, with viewers given clues as to who is trying to kill whom and why. About 12 episodes are planned, with production set for June and the first episode likely to begin streaming in September.

Unlike previous efforts from the studio's digital group, "Eight" will create a new content brand.

"We're not relying on branded talent or a well-known franchise," Paramount Digital Entertainment president Thomas Lesinski said. "We're trying to do online original content for the first time."

The initiative follows Paramount Digital Entertainment pushing off existing properties with content like last year's "Jackass 2.5," a feature follow-up to the studio's two movies showcasing male-themed gonzo adventures.

Episodes of "Eight" will run six to nine minutes, executives said, and at least one new installment will premiere each week. A heavy social-networking component, by which viewers can interact with the cast and guess solutions to the series' puzzles, is planned.

Lesinski said the episodes, which fall in the PG-13 rating category, will be promoted on MySpace and through a host of Viacom assets including MTV.

MySpace has been aggressive in the online-originals space: It was the first platform to debut the Marshall Herskovitz-produced "quarterlife," among others.

After a period of MySpace exclusivity, "Eight" will go out on other platforms including iTunes and could be collected as a single feature distributed on DVD.

The companies were set to announce the series formally today at the MIPTV confab in Cannes, with Endemol peddling foreign rights.

About a half-dozen projects are in development at Paramount Digital Entertainment, including some that derive from Par movies. But executives said they want the unit to undertake more than online extensions of the studio's efforts.

"I think it's important that we start testing original content," Lesinski said. "It allows you more flexibility, and there's a lot more upside." (partialdiff)