Nellie Andreeva

EXCLUSIVE: Michael Eisner’s Tornante Co. is making its first foray into live-action series with Circling the Drain, a single-camera comedy presentation it is self-financing and independently producing. The project, written by Josh Brand (Northern Exposure) and to be directed by Tucker Gates (Lost), stars Caprica alumna Alessandra Torresani as a 25-year-old reporter at the style section of a newspaper who loses her job and ends up on the obituary desk. The 8-10-minute presentation is now in pre-production and will start filming on Monday. Executive producing are Eisner, Brand, Gates as well as Tornante’s head of development Steve Cohen and head of production Noel Bright.

The idea for Circling the Drain was generated and developed internally at Tornante with hands-on involvement by former Disney chief Eisner. “He loved the idea of a young girl who is starting out life writing about death against the backdrop of an industry that may also be circling the drain,” Cohen said. (Eisner may actually have more faith in the newspaper business given that he had been rumored to run newspaper owner Tribune.) Brand was then tapped to write the script and Gates to direct the presentation. Both are with UTA, which also reps Torresani. Tornante, which started off producing scripted Web series, segued into TV with the animated comedy Glenn Martin DDS, which recently wrapped its second season on Nickelodeon. It used the same business model – internal development and a self-financed presentation, which was then taken out to the networks. “We’re placing bets that we can develop presentations internally and make smart disciplined choices,” Cohen said. The Circling the Drain presentation will be completed by Jan.1, giving the project a jump start on the broadcast pilot season where production usually starts in February. While the project was originally envisioned as a cable show, the producers are now looking to cast a wider net for it.

Tornante has several other scripted projects in development, including a show based on the Garbage Pail Kids brand the company owns as part of the 2007 acquisition of Topps Cards. On the live-action side, the next project Tornante is looking to do as a presentation is a half-hour single-camera comedy based on Josh Wilker’s memoir Cardboard Gods, which is being shepherded by Tommy Schlamme. Set in the 1970s, it is a coming-of-age story through the eyes of a 11-year-old boy who collects baseball cards.

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