By Piya Sinha-Roy
LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - After 45 years, "Rosemary's Baby" is back, with a new lead actress, location and platform - a television network that wants viewers to watch TV when it happens.
The classic horror remake, billed by Comcast Corp's NBC as a two-part "miniseries event" starting Sunday, marks the latest TV show to lure film talent and pick up the slack as Hollywood gravitates to big-budget blockbusters or microbudget films.
Previously adapted by Roman Polanski in a 1968 film starring Mia Farrow, "Rosemary's Baby" taps film actress Zoe Saldana for the modern Rosemary Woodhouse in her first leading TV role.
After suffering a miscarriage, Rosemary and husband Guy move to Paris for a fresh start and befriend a mysterious wealthy couple who become their benefactors. As Rosemary becomes pregnant again, she suffers frightening hallucinations and symptoms as she realizes dark forces might be at play.
NBC's decision to air a four-hour adaptation of "Rosemary's Baby" and Saldana's move to network TV highlights the potential for film talent to cash in on television's rising clout.
Other recent examples include Matthew McConaughey and Woody Harrelson teaming up on gritty HBO series "True Detective," and actor-director Billy Bob Thornton on FX's "Fargo" series.
"Both networks and cable stations are willing to take risks right now and they're a great incubator and great home for people who just want to get their material out there," said David Stern, executive producer of NBC's "Rosemary's Baby."
By marketing the show as an "event," NBC hopes to entice viewers to watch live, something that advertisers covet as viewing habits shift towards delayed viewing through digital video recorders (DVR) where viewers can skip commercials.
"We're getting unbelievable actors and filmmakers to do these things, so it's as close as we can come to a theater-like experience, but I think people really are in the place where they want that in the luxury of their own home," Stern said.
'THERE WAS NO PLACE FOR ME'
Talent from the film world moved to TV when studios began to focus on sequels to hit films or stories based on books or characters already familiar to audiences, said film and TV producer Lynda Obst.
The shift accelerated around 2008 as DVD sales dropped and studios picked films drawing overseas ticket sales, she said.
Oscar-winning Thornton said when he began his film career in the 1980s, the idea of doing television was "like his career is over," and his place in the film industry was in movies with budgets of $20 million to $25 million, which Hollywood now struggles to finance.
"There was no place for me," he said. "All of a sudden the bottom fell out of that world, so somebody had the great idea, which is 'Let's do 10-hour independent films on television.'"
Now the actor has moved to Fox TV's sister channel FX to lead the 10-part limited series "Fargo," made on a budget between $10 million and $20 million, which has garnered positive reviews, and 2.7 million watched the premiere live.
This year, Time Warner Inc's premium cable channel HBO debuted the anthology series format with "True Detective," where each season will feature a new cast and storyline.
The first eight-part season was made for an estimated $3 million to $4 million per episode according to senior analyst Tony Wible at Janney Capital Markets.
The show notched 11.9 million viewers per episode, the highest ratings for the first season of an HBO original series, and not only won critical acclaim for its stars, but also for emerging director Cary Fukunaga, who will next direct Stephen King's horror novel "It" into a film.
Fukunaga shows how filmmakers can display their story-telling talents over a longer period of time on TV and possibly parlay that into a topline, big budget Hollywood gig.
But for Thornton, the future of films lies in television and online streaming platforms such as Netflix.
"Television has such a cachet now," he said. "They've got all these terrific actors and writers; in other words it's like Mighty Mouse, 'Here I come to save the day.' That's what TV is doing."
(Additional reporting by Eric Kelsey and Lisa Richwine; Editing by Mary Milliken and Cynthia Osterman)