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Future of Universal’s Big ‘Tower’ Franchise in Doubt Due to Budget Concerns

Delaying the multi-part adaptation of the Stephen King novel would leave the studio without a major 2013 summer release

Heading into the weekend, the fate of Universal's mega "Dark Tower" series is still unclear. 

Universal execs have meeting for weeks to decide whether or not to proceed with the ambitious project that involves three movies and a television miniseries. At issue: The price.

The reassessment follows the recent structuring of the film studio — Universal fired its production president, Debbie Liebling, earlier this week — a few months after Comcast took control of NBCUniversal.

"Dark Castle" is Universal's second tentpole to run into roadblocks over budget concerns. In March, the studio scrapped plans to make Guillermo del Toro's $150 million adaptation of H.P. Lovecraft's "Mountains of Madness."

Frugality has long been a staple of the Pennsylvania cable company's approach to its media holdings. If the studio passes on "The Dark Tower," Universal will have a gaping hole in its release schedule going forward.

It is the studio's only scheduled release for 2013, and has a plum May 17 premiere date leaving Universal without a major summer tentpole. 

Just last month, the studio acknowledged that Javier Bardem was in final negotiations to star in the epic, based on Stephen King's self-described "magnum opus."

Also Read: Universal Shake-Up: Liebling Out, Cramer & Kirschenbaum In

Ron Howard was expected to direct and produce the first movie; Akiva Goldsman is producing and writing and Brian Grazer is producing. It's not clear yet if Howard and Bardem, both Oscar winners who are in constant demand, will remain with the project.

Universal had high hopes for the multi-part adaptation of the beloved books. In many ways a project such as "The Dark Tower," touted as a fresh kind of transmedia epic would have seemed in Comcast's wheelhouse. After all, Brian Roberts, the CEO of Universal's new parent company, rhapsodized about the potentials for corporate synergy between the studio and its sprawling cable empire.