Sky TV signs films deal with `This Life' production firm

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The Independent Online
THE production company behind This Life and Between the Lines has signed a major film deal with Rupert Murdoch's cable and satellite service, Sky Television.

World Productions, one of the country's most respected and successful independent drama producers, has guaranteed to develop three films for Sky's subscription movie channels in the Sky Movies Originals initiative. Sky will invest about $2m (pounds 1.2m) in each film produced, although other investors may be brought in on a project.

The films will be Sky's first venture into original film production. World, by contrast, has a heavyweight track-record under its reclusive chairman, Tony Garnett, of making controversial and acclaimed dramas. Mr Garnett's credits range from the ground-breaking Cathy Come Home, through the black comedy Cardiac Arrest, to the mainstream BBC 1 series Ballykissangel.

The deal is something of a departure for Sky, which predominantly broadcasts US imports including Beverly Hills 90210, The Simpsons, Star Trek: Voyager and The X Files. Recently, however, Sky's head of programming, James Baker, and Elisabeth Murdoch, general manager of broadcasting, have both put a high priority on securing "must see" shows for the main entertainment channel, Sky One. They signed high-cost deals to secure the UK premieres of new episodes of ER and Friends, and began to commission original programming from British producers.

Until now, Sky's original production efforts have been concentrated on factual series, such as last year's Ibiza Uncovered and the recent series Hollywood Sex, which Mr Baker and Ms Murdoch poached from ITV after the channel considered it too near the knuckle for a mainstream audience.

Mr Baker said of the World deal: "It's a first step for us, and they're a very good bunch to start with ... What they bring is such excellence in terms of script that people will think Sky isn't just making predictable stuff."