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Behind the scenes of 'Loch Ness'

Behind the scenes of ‘Loch Ness’ — How ABC locked up Ted Danson’s Nessie

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You’ve no doubt heard of feature films going direct to video, but how about direct to network? That’s the unusual fate of Working Title Films’ Loch Ness, a family adventure flick starring Ted Danson, which was at one point scheduled to be released in U.S. theaters this summer by Gramercy Pictures but will instead air on ABC during this month’s sweeps.

Completed in late 1994 for about $12 million, Loch Ness was scratched from the silver screen by PolyGram — the parent company that owns Working Title and Gramercy — after the film tested lukewarmly and execs felt the market for family fare had gone soft. ”To launch and market this film would have cost like $15 million,” says Loch Ness producer Stephen Ujlaki. ”[PolyGram] looked at what was happening this summer [which saw box office bombs such as Flipper, Alaska, The Adventures of Pinocchio, and Matilda] and decided it didn’t want to take the risk … I wasn’t very happy, but that’s life.”

Oddly enough, it was ABC that wound up bagging the beast. Earlier this year, after executive vice president Alan Sternfeld screened Loch Ness (”It’s a charming film for kids as well as parents,” he says), ABC offered an estimated $3-$4 million for the rights — before PolyGram channeled the film through traditional video and pay-television outlets. (Loch Ness has been released theatrically in the U.K., however.) ”I think I just snuck up on this thing before the other networks were aware that it existed,” Sternfeld says. The other networks, for their part, claim that they were aware — they just weren’t interested.

In any case, ABC has been making sure viewers are clued in to its Loch Ness sighting by unleashing a hefty six-week, seven-figure promotional campaign. ”This is like the movie’s worldwide premiere,” notes Sternfeld, ”so we feel that it requires special treatment.”

In fact, considering the Brobdingnagian success Danson had last February with the NBC miniseries Gulliver’s Travels (which drew a hefty 30 million viewers each night), Loch Ness might very well get royal treatment from its television audience. And if not? Just consider it another mystery of the deep-sixed.