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March 11, 1997

Simon stays at Viacom Prods.

Lisa de Moraes
The Hollywood Reporter

Viacom has secured the future of boutique production arm Viacom Prods. by reupping its president, Perry Simon, in a long-term deal, the company confirmed.

Simon has signed rapper Hammer to star in a two-hour movie for Showtime that is also a back-door pilot for a broadcast network sitcom.

This is a strategy similar to the one Simon successfully employed in selling "Sabrina, the Teenage Witch" to ABC after a two-hour Showtime broadcast.

In the new Showtime movie, Hammer plays a rap star who takes four children under his wing; the children are played by the younger siblings of Melissa Joan Hart, who starred in Nickelodeon's successful "Clarissa Explains All" and now stars in Viacom Prods.' "Sabrina, the Teenage Witch." The Hammer project was written and will be executive produced by Paul Bernbaum, who inked and executive produced Viacom Prods.' Leslie Nielsen movie "Rent-A-Kid." Also executive producing the Hammer two-hour project is Paula Hart, who is also executive producer on "Sabrina" and who is the mom of all the Hart kids.

Simon, who joined Viacom Prods. in 1993, oversees development and production of programming targeted for the broadcast networks, cable, first-run syndication and direct-to-video markets, including both live-action and animation.

In his four years at the helm, Simon has expanded the division from one that did a handful of network shows _ largely Fred Silverman product _ to one with a larger and much more diversified slate.

To that end, he has worked closely with the development offices of Viacom-owned channels MTV, Nickelodeon, Showtime, USA Networks, Comedy Central and other divisions within the company, including Paramount, Blockbuster and Simon & Schuster.

Last spring, Simon took Melissa Joan Hart, who was well known with kids via her starring role in "Clarissa Explains All," and put her into the pilot for "Sabrina," based on the Archie comic character.

It was produced as a TV movie to air on Viacom's cable net Showtime.

At the same time, Simon sent the finished product to the broadcast networks, which resulted in a series order from ABC for its Friday TGIF kids lineup.

"Sabrina" is one of few ratings success stories among this season's crop of new series; it continues as the season's top-rated broadcast primetime series among teens and kids.

Simon plans to take out the new Hammer two-hour in the same fashion.

Among the series Simon now oversees are "Sabrina," CBS' "Diagnosis, Murder," NBC's midseason "Crisis Center," ABC's daytime "Caryl & Marilyn," Showtime's "Bedtime Stories" and "Latino Laugh Festival" and USA Network's children's series "Johnnytime." Direct-to-video productions include "Rent-A-Kid"; a sci-fi adventure film called "Robowarriors," which was produced in association with Republic Home Video; and an animation series based on the "Corduroy the Bear" children's book series, which also will appear on the USA Network.

Viacom Prods.' first feature, "Family Plan," starring Nielsen reprising his role from "Rent-A-Kid," is slated for a fall release.

Before joining Viacom, Simon spent 13 years as a programming exec at NBC, rising to executive vp primetime programming at NBC Entertainment, where he oversaw all aspects of NBC's primetime schedule, including both series and longform.

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