Studios bring fresh doses of cult TV direct-to-video


Hollywood is known for turning popular, mainstream TV series into big-budget theatrical movies; think "Charlie's Angels," "The Dukes of Hazzard" and "Miami Vice."

Now, studios are beginning to tap into quirkier, cult TV series for direct-to-video spinoffs.

Last year 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment scored big with "Family Guy Presents Stewie Griffin -- The Untold Story," which has sold nearly 3.5 million DVDs since its September 2005 release.

Now comes Warner Home Video with plans for a direct-to-DVD "Babylon 5" movie. Debuting in 1993, the sci-fi series drew 13.7 million viewers in the first of its five seasons and has enjoyed nine successful years in rerun syndication, while its TV-DVD releases have generated $44 million in consumer spending.

"This popular TV show, which has been off the air for a few years, continues to have a strong, loyal fan base that is hungry for more content," said Jeff Baker, Warner Home Video's senior vp and general manager, nontheatrical franchise. "This is the first time we're utilizing one of our popular TV franchises as a made-for-video title, and we have a strong commitment to the growth of this sector."

Warner Bros. Television began production on "Babylon 5: The Lost Tales" this week. The film will consist of two new "Babylon 5" stories that are being written and directed by J. Michael Stracynski, executive producer and creator of the series. Fellow executive producer Doug Netter also is back on board, as are series actors Bruce Boxleitner (President John Sheridan), Tracy Scoggins (Captain Elizabeth Lochley) and Peter Woodward (Galen).

The DVD release, set for next year, is the latest in a series of direct-to-video initiatives Warner has undertaken this year. In August, the studio announced the launch of its Warner Premiere division, with plans to produce as many as 15 original films a year, beginning with "The Dukes of Hazzard II," due in the spring. The previous month, Warner announced a new series of animated DTV movies based on DC Comics characters; in March came word that Warner was launching a live-action DVD line of horror and sci-fi films under the Raw Feed banner.