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Ex-HBO executive, Netflix in talks to produce content, sources say

Ben Fritz
Los Angeles Times (MCT)

LOS ANGELES — Netflix is discussing a partnership with former HBO Films president Colin Callender to produce original content, including mini-series and movies, for the online video service, according to three people with knowledge of the talks who are not authorized to speak about them publicly.

Should a deal be reached, it would accelerate Netflix’s growing resemblance to pay cable network HBO, where Callender worked for two decades and played a pivotal role in its award-winning programming success. He left amid a management shake-up at the Time Warner Inc.-owned cable network in 2008.

After amassing more than 20 million subscribers with a large selection of older movies and television reruns, Netflix has recently moved into original programming. The company launched its first series, “Lilyhammer,” this month, and has at least five other shows in the works, including a political drama starring Kevin Spacey and a revival of Fox’s sitcom “Arrested Development.”

If he strikes an arrangement with Netflix, Callender would produce the first original mini-series or movies for its popular online streaming service.

Netflix is using original programming to help draw and retain subscribers as it faces increasing competition among on-demand online providers of films and TV reruns.

Similarly, HBO started off airing movies following their theatrical runs and then moved into original programs, building its brand with popular series such as “The Larry Sanders Show,” “Sex and the City” and “The Sopranos.”

The pay cable channel also regularly airs original movies and mini-series such as last year’s “Mildred Pierce,” for which star Kate Winslet won Emmy, Golden Globe and Screen Actors Guild awards.

During his tenure at HBO Films, Callender oversaw such acclaimed mini-series and original movies as “John Adams,” “The Pacific,” “Empire Falls” starring Paul Newman and Joanne Woodward, and “Recount” with Spacey.

Under his oversight, HBO Films not only produced TV movies and mini-series, but theatrical releases that included “My Big Fat Greek Wedding,” “Maria Full of Grace” and “American Splendor.”

In 2010, Callender formed his own Beverly Hills, Calif.-based film, television and theater production company Playground Entertainment

Netflix has been aggressively pursuing new content deals as some of its most prominent arrangements for exclusive rights to movies are coming to an end.

A deal with pay cable channel Starz that gave Netflix access to films from Sony Pictures and Walt Disney Pictures expires at the end of this month, and one with Epix that gives Netflix users movies from Lionsgate and Paramount Pictures will become non-exclusive in September.

Original movies or mini-series produced by Callender could help to fill that hole.

Reached by email, Callender declined to comment, as did a spokesman for Netflix.

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