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The Hollywood Question: What Kind of Bin Laden Projects Will and Won’t Work?

When a huge, upbeat national story breaks — pilot makes emergency landing, child is rescued from well — movie and TV producers clear their schedules to try to find a way to instantly capitalize on it. And what's more upbeat then the death of the world's most wanted terrorist? "We're hungry for heroes," says Discovery Channel chief Clark Bunting. "Look at what happened with the Captain Sullenberger story [the rights to which were bought by Indiana Jones producers Kathleen Kennedy and Frank Marshall]. We're more about rhetoric and infighting than remembering who we are and where we came from. And this story has the underpinnings of heroics and courage that were instrumental in the founding of this country." USA! USA! However, patriotism aside and Hollywood reality in the forefront, what kind of projects actually will get made out of this? Is a movie actually likely, on big screens or little? Or is this a story just for news and reality TV? We surveyed movie and TV execs to find out.

First, let's look at the big-screen issues: Nabbing life rights of anyone involved in the raid would be near impossible. The key "get" for an authorized movie would be one of the Navy SEALs or commandos who were part of the raid on bin Laden's mansion, but active-duty soldiers are legally and militarily precluded from speaking because of their security clearances. Not to mention, they would not want to publicize their roles in the operation, as it might put them and their families at risk for Al Qaeda reprisals.

Then there's the fact that a big movie would take far too long to put together to make the story of the raid alone worthwhile. "If you just tell the story of what happened [Sunday], I don't think it's that interesting," says one prominent producer. "It could be years before a feature would come out and by that time it will be such old news." Kathryn Bigelow's already-in-development film, based on an earlier failed mission to take out the former al Qaeda leader in Tora Bora, is likely the closest thing to already up and running, though it's being rejiggered to factor in the happy ending.

But documentary or reality channels — now they are all over this. Yesterday, National Geographic Channel tore up its prime-time lineup for this week, announcing plans to air past programming related to the slain terrorist and 9/11 over the next six days. And as Vulture first reported, Discovery Channel is already crashing Killing Bin Laden, an "insta-mentary" about yesterday's heroics to be aired May 15. "We've already had conversations with a number of organizations this morning about what's been shot already and what other stuff we can do," Bunting told us (at one point pausing our conversation to take a call from the Pentagon). "We can't out-news the news networks, but what we can do is bring perspective to the story in a way that gives our viewers more context."

The Banditos had previously produced two commercials for the Navy, and that relationship earned them full cooperation for the film. It has no distributor yet, but we hear that the directors plan to show off footage at this summer's Comic-Con and hope to quickly get a deal. Says one insider, "Next month, there may be a tidal wave or an earthquake, but for this month at least, for today, SEALs are hot — at least compared with [Sunday afternoon]." He's right, according to Yahoo, which reports that searches for "Navy SEALs" have spiked 770 percent since bin Laden's death was announced.

TV has historically been the place that can most speedily capitalize on a true event. They used to do it with TV movies, but the main networks have mostly dropped out of that game, and only a few cable networks still try. There's Lifetime and Hallmark, and a movie that ends with the disposal at sea of a bullet-riddled body doesn't quite lend itself to either of those networks. Then there's HBO, but that network wouldn't rush any production and would almost certainly wait until some irresistible source material — a book or magazine article — presented itself.

But documentary or reality channels — now they are all over this. Yesterday, National Geographic Channel tore up its prime-time lineup for this week, announcing plans to air past programming related to the slain terrorist and 9/11 over the next six days. And as Vulture first reported, Discovery Channel is already crashing Killing Bin Laden, an "insta-mentary" about yesterday's heroics to be aired May 15. "We've already had conversations with a number of organizations this morning about what's been shot already and what other stuff we can do," Bunting told us (at one point pausing our conversation to take a call from the Pentagon). "We can't out-news the news networks, but what we can do is bring perspective to the story in a way that gives our viewers more context."

Work on the Osama programming began almost the moment news leaked out of the terrorist's death. Michael Cascio, senior VP of production and interim head of content for National Geographic Channel, says he was already in discussions with other execs at the network Sunday night. "I was on e-mail five minutes after the shock wore off," he says. "A bunch of us internally were trying to figure out how we wanted to handle this." First thing Monday, Cascio says he "got calls from our network of producers" — at least a half-dozen — to discuss ideas for documentaries and other programming that they could get into production. "We have a special affinity for this subject because we've been explaining it and covering it for a while," he says, noting NatGeo's involvement in the award-winning Restrepo. "We already have a good group of potential producers ... who know the territory."

And if you really can't wait for all that, then check YouTube: There'll probably be about 83 song parodies about dead bin Laden by noon.