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Turner Announces Mammoth 'Native Americans' Project : Television: Three of Ted Turner's cable networks are participating in a $30-million-plus effort combining documentaries, films and news reports.


NEW YORK — The history, culture and present-day lives of American Indians will be the subject of an unusual TV programming effort involving three Turner Broadcasting cable-TV channels.

Titled "The Native Americans. Behind the Legends. Beyond the Myths," the programming will include historical TV movies on TNT, a six-hour documentary series on TBS and a 20-part series of news reports on CNN.

The programs, which will be told from the American Indian perspective and involve Indian writers, producers and academic advisers from a variety of tribes, will begin airing next fall. Executives said the overall budget will be between $30 million and $40 million.

Ted Turner, chairman of the company, told a news conference here Thursday that "The Native Americans" is intended to correct some of the stereotypes of American Indians in old TV shows and Hollywood movies.

"The old movies with Tony Curtis and Victor Mature cast as Native Americans showed them as ruthless, blood-lusting savages," Turner said. "But if you read history, you find that the Pilgrims wouldn't have made it through that first winter without the Native Americans, and (that) others taught the Indians to take scalps. . . . As a child knocking around the Southeast, I was always delighted and thrilled when I found an arrowhead. But when I read 'Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee' several years ago, I was appalled. . . . We had a systematic campaign to exterminate the indigenous people in this country."

Wes Studi, a Cherokee actor who had roles in both "Dances With Wolves" and "The Last of the Mohicans" and will appear in the first TNT movie for the project, "The Broken Chain," noted that it was rare to have an Indian as the hero of a TV movie.

"The central character I play is a Mohawk," he said. "It's sad that we need to see ourselves (in the movies or on TV) to affirm that we're part of the world, but that's an important representation."

Scott Sassa, president of Turner Entertainment, said that "in today's crowded media environment," such a coordinated effort on a single topic--the first among the Turner networks--was needed to get viewers' attention. He said he expected that the endeavor, which will also include a tie-in book from Turner Publishing, will be repeated on other major topics in the future.

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