While the CBS television network dazzles audiences with the intrigue surrounding the "alliance" formed between contestants on its hit show, "Survivor," at least one Broadway network is working on a brand new alliance all its own.
Playbill On-Line has learned that Broadway Digital Entertainment (BDE) is expected to name Robert Nederlander, Jr. president of Broadway Tonight. A formal announcement is likely to come next week, a BDE source said.
BDE has also confirmed that it is already an "affiliate organization" and a "producing partner" with a separate new firm, Nederlander Digital Productions, which is owned and presided over by Robert Nederlander, Jr. A BDE spokesperson said that Nederlander Digital Productions "develops leading-edge CD ROMS as well as new technology for a variety of clients including some NFL teams."
The high-profile BDE is just finishing its first six months in operation. BDE has been seeking to exploit its one-of-a-kind, 320-title Broadway Theatre Archive. The Broadway Theatre Archive comprises theatre productions originally aired on public television. While marketing its archive, BDE is also seeking to develop Broadway Tonight (BT), a subscription-based broadcast model for first run theatre productions. Initially backed by Michael Fuchs, the executive who accelerated Home Box Office's (HBO) rise to the level of a major network, BDE and Broadway Tonight have striven to forge productive alliances including the assembly of marketable packages with big-name stars, shows and financing in place.
Although there have been no announcements of specific packages or deals, one source suggested that Robert Nederlander, Jr. had acquired a significant (if not controlling) interest in either Broadway Tonight or BDE. Asked whether Robert Nederlander, Jr. had a financial interest in either company, a spokesperson told Playbill On-Line, "No, not that I'm aware of." Although BDE's co-founder Basil Hero was on vacation and unavailable for comment, he had spoken with Playbill On-Line earlier this year and said that, "The Nederlanders, as equity owners in Broadway Digital Entertainment and as co-producers of the theatrical run itself, have a vested interest in picking the best material so that those houses stay lit."
As previously announced, Toby Simkin has been named BDE's chief technology officer and will also serve as executive producer of Nederlander Digital Productions. Elsewhere at BDE, veteran producer Ellen Krass is expected to remain in place. "Ellen remains as executive producer of the broadcast side," the BDE spokesperson said, "and she continues to play a role in creative development."
Describing itself as the first global television subscription service, Broadway Tonight (BT), originally announced on Feb. 16 that it would launch its worldwide services in the fall of 2001. Once underway, BT plans to offer a subscription service modeled after Home Box Office (HBO) with four Broadway shows offered to television viewers around the world for an annual subscription fee of $79.95.
As earlier reported, Broadway Tonight has indicated it has close ties to the Nederlanders, naming The Nederlander Theatre Group and, specifically, Robert and Harry Nederlander.
Earlier this year, Playbill On-Line reported that Broadway Tonight had included The Nederlander Theatre Group in a list of its investor group and , shortly thereafter, the Broadway Television Network (BTN), Broadway Tonight's nearest competitor, issued a release quoting James M. Nederlander, Sr. and James L. Nederlander, Jr. of The Nederlander Organization stating that their organization was "in no way associated with Broadway Digital Entertainment or its affiliates Broadway Theatre Archive or Broadway Tonight." The James Nederlanders' announcement also reaffirmed The Nederlander Organization's previous commitment to BTN.
Playbill On-Line reported that both statements were accurate and that each organization (including the PPV-based BTN and the subscription based BDE (Broadway Tonight) appeared to have their respective, distinct and credible links to the Nederlander theatre family.
On Feb. 17, BT co-founder Basil Hero talked with Playbill On-Line and likened his model to HBO's. "Broadway Tonight is an original programming series," Hero told Playbill On-Line. "We're a subscription business the same way HBO is. You don't call HBO pay-per-view, do you? Ours is a subscription business, which is a much bigger business. It's a cash flow, cash cow, like Cinemax or HBO where people are ordering on an annual basis. Pay-per-view is different. It's one-off, one-time and it's not branded as any particular series. "
Hero said the BT idea is to identify properties that are exciting and fresh and to mount them both for television and for theatre.
"We would be identifying and co-producing the properties instead of going to producers with existing content and properties," Hero explained. "We're starting fresh with our own material. We think it's important to control the copyrights and subsequent distribution."
The strategy for BT includes hiring film and television stars for a new play, on the premise that established talent in film and television will generate marketing support for the show. Using a television studio, BT will then record the original cast in performance -- before they ever perform in front of an audience. The tape of that performance is then put on hold. Next, the show is sent for out-of-town tryouts. Following the tryouts, the show comes to New York for its Broadway opening at a Nederlander theatre. Once the show closes its stage run, the taped version of the original cast becomes part of BT's global television subscription package. Eventually, BT's shows will go to its Broadway Theatre Archive for syndication and video distribution.
Aimed at developing dramas using "stars interested in appearing in plays by America's greatest playwrights," BT is one of two operating divisions of Broadway Digital Entertainment (BDE). The other is the Broadway Theatre Archive. BDE's investor group comprises founding investor (and former HBO executive) Michael Fuchs, WaterView Advisors' Frank Biondi, The Nederlander Theatre Group, Bear Stearns/Constellation Ventures, Psilos Venture Capital Group, The New York City Investment Fund and Broadway producers Chase Mishkin and Anita Waxman.
-- By Murdoch McBride