In what could eventually lead to another small rival to the three major networks, a new European-American consortium called the Harmony Premiere Network was announced Wednesday. The consortium said the first productions from its three partners would be two miniseries for airing in 1988.
Those four-hour projects, "King of the Olympics: The Lives and Loves of Avery Brundage" and "The Man Who Lived at the Ritz," already have been sold to three major station groups serving 15 stations, including KCOP-TV Channel 13 in Los Angeles, the new company said.
The firms are Group W, Gaylord Broadcasting and United Television, whose stations serve an estimated 30% of the nation's TV viewers, the new company said. Discussions are under way to interest more stations, including a New York outlet, a spokesman said.
For the time being, said Robert Lloyd, domestic TV president for Harmony Gold, an independent production and distribution company in Hollywood, the new operation will be an "ad hoc" network offering first-run programming to stations at the rate of three or four productions a year.
That would make the new company similar to Operation Prime Time, an ad hoc network that was established in 1976 to bypass ABC, CBS and NBC in providing original movies, miniseries and series to stations. Its productions included "Golda," "Testimony of Two Men" and "Solid Gold."
However, Lloyd didn't rule out the possibility that the operation could eventually become a network similar to one now planning a bid to lure away viewers from CBS, NBC and ABC, albeit on a limited basis at night--Rupert Murdoch's fledgling Fox Broadcasting Co.
Fox, planning to introduce a lineup of Saturday and Sunday night programming next month, opened for business in October with comedian Joan Rivers' late-night talk show. It says it now serves 113 stations in the United States, including KTTV Channel 11 in Los Angeles, which Fox owns.
Harmony Premiere Network "could possibly be a full-service network," Lloyd said. "This is the first step." However, he said no decision has been made about that, nor has any decision been made on whether the company will offer prime-time series.
He said the company initially will concentrate primarily on miniseries, followed by TV movies. He said the two miniseries that it initially will offer are budgeted at $8 million each.
Besides Harmony Gold, the partners in the new company are ReteEruopea, an Italian communications company with outlets in Italy, France and Spain; and a French company, Societe Francaise de Productions, Lloyd said.
They have agreed to co-produce and finance a program package totaling $90 million over the next three years, he said, with the programs intended for broadcast both in the United States and in foreign markets.
"King of the Olympics," based on Brundage's life as a longtime Olympics leader, will be released for broadcast between Aug. 1 and Sept. 15 as a "tie" to the 1988 Summer Olympics that NBC will air from Sept. 17 to Oct. 2.
"The Man Who Lived at the Ritz," based on A. E. Hotchner's thriller set in Paris during World War II, will be offered to stations for broadcast between Oct. 15 and Dec. 1, 1988.
This, Lloyd said, will give network affiliates who want the program the option to air it during the crucial November ratings "sweeps" period--which would mean pre-empting four hours of network fare.
None of the station groups that have bought rights to air the two programs, nor any other stations that follow suit, are committed to buy future productions of Harmony Premiere Network, Lloyd said.
"What we're doing is setting up a pipeline of miniseries and movies" from which independent stations and network affiliates alike can select programs, he said.