EXCLUSIVE: Writer-producers Lee Eisenberg and Gene Stupnitsky have signed a new two-year overall deal with ABC Studios. The Office alums serve as executive producers/showrunners on two new comedy series sold under their previous deal with the studio, Trophy Wife at ABC and Hello Ladies at HBO. Additionally, Eisenberg and Stupnitsky, who wrote the 2011 feature Bad Teacher, executive produced Sony TV’s comedy pilot adaptation, which nears a midseason series order at CBS. “Lee and Gene are hugely prolific and quite possibly the hardest working comedy writers out there today,” said ABC Studios SVP Development Patrick Moran. “We are thrilled to have them attached to our new comedy Trophy Wife.”
Over the last two years, Eisenberg and Stupnitsky developed projects at ABC, FX, HBO and Comedy Central through their Quantity Entertainment. Emily Brecht, who has been with the company since 2011, is being promoted to Director of Development and will oversee day-to-day operations. She previously worked at the Department of Defense. “As a policy, we always look to hire employees who are smarter than us,” Eisenberg and Stupnitsky said. “That said, we look forward to Quantity’s next chapter as Emily becomes a principal partner and eventually ousts us.” Read More »
Despite improving its ratings in the second half of its recent midseason run and getting good marks creatively, crime drama Body Of Proof couldn’t avoid the retool curse, getting a pass from ABC on Friday after three seasons, the latest series to get cancelled after being reworked. But the show is not as cold as the corpses on Megan Hunt’s (Dana Delany) table yet. I’ve learned that producer ABC Studios is actively shopping the drama series. In addition to the usual suspects for such a character-driven procedural with a strong lead — TNT and USA Network — I hear also in the mix is Tribune’s WGN America, which is in building mode, looking to join the ranks of cable networks offering original programming. With its average of 11 million viewers and 2.0/6 in 18-49 this season, Body Of Proof would bring a sizable audience to a cable network. (It ranked as the third-most-watched ABC drama this season, behind only Dancing With The Stars-buoyed Castle and flagship Grey’s Anatomy). The prospect of WGN America is particularly intriguing as the network only signaled its intention to get in the original scripted game in March, and acquiring an existing show is the fastest way of doing that. On the superstation, Body Of Proof would fit with the current off-network drama offerings, all crime procedurals, particularly the only contemporary hourlong series Bones.
Related: Matt Cherniss To Run WGN, Newly Formed Tribune Studios Read More »
EXCLUSIVE: Criminal Minds executive producer/showrunner Erica Messer has closed a new two-year overall deal with ABC Studios. Under the pact, she is set to continue as showrunner on the studio’s veteran crime drama. Locking in Messer has been considered key to Criminal Minds‘ renewal. CBS did not pick up the show for another season along with its other series because of too many uncertainties as Messer and key cast members Thomas Gibson, Joe Mantegna, Shemar Moore, Kirsten Vangsness and A.J. Cook all had no deals beyond this season. ABC Studios and CBS are yet to lock in the actors, but Messer’s deal is expected to help the process. I hear besides money, a major holdup in the actors’ negotiations had been the fact that it was unclear who would run the show next season. Messer is very well liked among the cast and crew of Criminal Minds, so her coming back would likely help the actors commit. Of course, the studio and network also have to bridge the salary gaps between what the actors ask for and what they offer, by most accounts nominal raises.
Less than two weeks before CBS’ upfront presentation, I hear there has been little movement on the money issue, leading to speculation that CBS may come out with a best and final offer. The actors don’t negotiate together, so it is conceivable that CBS renews the show with some of the cast signed and continues negotiations with the others after the upfront. That happened two years ago when Gibson and Moore’s contracts were up. Moore closed before the upfronts, while Gibson’s deal didn’t close until late June. And if CBS, which is footing the bill on the show, decides to play hardball and not renew Criminal Minds if agreements with actors could not be reached, the series could potentially move to ABC, whose sibling ABC Studios is reaping the financial benefits of the show’s lucrative off-network deal and strong sales around the world — the way CBS took in NBC’s Medium several years ago. Most insiders stress such a nuclear option is extremely unlikely, and CBS will find a way to bring Criminal Minds for a ninth season. Read More »
Leila Strachan, most recently a writer-producer on ABC’s comedy Happy Endings, has signed a two-year overall deal with ABC Television Studios. She will work on current series as well as develop new projects for the studio. The remaining original episodes of Sony TV’s Happy Endings were recently shifted to a Friday 8-9 PM time slot (its third move this season), and the network has launched a campaign asking fans to save the show. Strachan is repped by UTA.
UPDATED: Two ABC Studios-based producers are moving on as their deals are coming up: Charlize Theron and her Denver And Delilah Prods, and veteran writer-producer Bob Daily. Theron, who is expected to quickly land elsewhere, is still in business with ABC Studios. She executive produces the studio’s NBC pilot Hatfields & McCoys. Meanwhile, Daily has already lined up his next gig, signing on to serve as executive producer/showrunner on NBC’s untitled Robert Padnick comedy pilot.
Via its overall deal with Mark Gordon Company, ABC Studios has made a joint venture pact with Sonar Entertainment for Fix It Men. ABC Studios will work with Sonar to set up and produce the action-suspense series created by John Glenn (Hatfields & McCoys, Eagle Eye) about a scientist and a Special Forces soldier from the post-apocalyptic future who travel back in time to prevent Armageddon. Landing in present day, the pair morph into their younger selves as they set about altering a series of seemingly random events that form the chain leading to the catastrophe. ABC Studios will handle North American distribution and Sonar will take the rest of the world, just in time for the Mip-TV market in Cannes next month.
Once Upon A Time creators Eddy Kitsis and Adam Horowitz are bringing in top-notch writer-producers to help them mount a proposed Once spinoff for ABC and ABC Studios. The studio is closing overall deals with Prison Break alum Zack Estrin and Once consulting producer Jane Espenson that would cover their services on the spinoff. Details about the spinoff are being kept under wraps but I have learned that it takes place in Wonderland. While the original idea was to use Once‘s character of Mad Hatter to transition to the new world, that plan was ultimately dropped. I hear the story will now be told through the point of of view of Alice, who has not appeared on Once, surrounded by several new characters. According to a casting breakdown released last week, they are Amahl, described as exotic, soulful and optimistic; and The Knave, a sardonic adventurer, a man of action, a loner and a heart-breaker. The spinoff takes place in a post-curse world, though, like on Once, there will be flashbacks, so we could potentially see familiar faces, including Barbara Hershey’s recently departed Cora, who was the Queen Of Hearts in Once‘s Wonderland.
I hear the idea is to air the spinoff in 13-episode season arcs with a beginning, middle … Read More »
Casey Johnson and David Windsor have signed a two-year overall deal with ABC Studios. This marks the first overall pact for the duo, who have been partners since the launch of their careers as staff writers on the ABC/20th TV comedy series Two Guys And A Girl during the 2000-2001 season. The deal with ABC Studios follows Johnson and Windsor’s stint on another ABC/20th half-hour series, cult comedy Don’t Trust The B—- In Apt. 23, on which they served as co-executive producers this season. (Johnson separately worked as a consultant on NBC’s Guys With Kids). The pact also brings Johnson and Windsor back to ABC Studios where they developed and wrote four comedy scripts for ABC with studio-based Mark Gordon Co — one of which, It Takes A Village, went to pilot two years ago. Under the overall deal, which starts June 1 and has an option for a third year, Johnson and Windsor, repped by ICM Partners, will develop new projects for the studio and may join existing ABC Studios series. Their series credits also include What I Like About You, Greek, Mr. Sunshine and Breaking In.
ABC Studios has acquired the rights to the Oscar-nominated documentary film How To Survive A Plague for a possible ABC miniseries, which would be executive produced by the docu’s writer-director David France and producers Howard Gertler and John Lyons. The documentary revolves around controversial AIDS activists who infiltrated the pharmaceutical industry and helped identify promising new drugs, moving them from experimental trials to patients in record time.
EXCLUSIVE: Glee co-executive producer Stacy Traub has inked an overall deal with ABC Studios. Under the pact, she is joining the studio’s ABC comedy pilot Middle Age Rage as executive producer. Written by Cheryl Holliday, Middle Age Rage chronicles what happens when a middle-aged wife and mother is fed up with feeling invisible and begins to speak up and demand the respect she feels she’s earned. Holliday and Traub executive produce with Amblin TV’s Darryl Frank and Justin Falvey. Notes From The Underbelly creator Traub sold a couple of projects this season, including a comedy starring Rachael Harris and The Office‘s Angela Kinsey, which had a put pilot commitment at Fox. She is with UTA.
EXCLUSIVE: Director Charles McDougall has signed a two-year overall deal with ABC Studios. Under the seven-figure pact, McDougall will direct and executive produce ABC Studios’ ABC drama pilot The Returned this season. The Returned, co-produced by Brillstein Entertainment Partners and Brad Pitt’s Plan B, is based on the upcoming novel by Jason Mott. Written by Aaron Zelman, it chronicles how the lives of the people in Arcadia are forever changed when their deceased loved ones return. (The project’s original location, Aurora, was changed out of respect for the victims of the Aurora, Co. shooting)
Most of the pilots McDougall has directed have gone to series. What’s more, most of those series have gone the distance, including ABC/ABC Studios’ Desperate Housewives, whose pilot earned McDougall a directing Emmy Award, Showtime’s The Tudors and CBS’ The Good Wife. Last season, he helmed the pilot for Fox’s The Mindy Project. WME-repped McDougall most recently has directed episodes of Mindy, NBC’s The Office and Parks & Recreation and Netflix’s House Of Cards. The deal with McDougall is part of ABC Studios’ strategy to beef up its talent roster with top-tier showrunners and directors. The studio recently signed a multi-year pact with Josh Schwartz and Stephanie Savage’s Fake Empire.
ESPN programming executive Juan José Alfonso has been named VP Drama Development for ABC Studios. He will report to SVP Drama Development Michael McDonald. Alfonso comes from sister Disney company ESPN, where he was VP of Program Development, overseeing all international original content, including documentaries, scripted series, studio shows and web content. This included El Diez, ESPN International’s first-ever scripted series, as well as a number of documentary series, including Capitales del Fútbol, Heroics and La Liga Confidencial.
Josh Schwartz and Stephanie Savage are finalizing a deal to move their Fake Empire TV production company to ABC Studios with a three-year deal. Building a talent roster has been a priority for ABC Studios, which saw A-listers Greg Berlanti and Bill Lawrence go to Warner Bros TV over the past couple of years. I hear the studio went aggressively after Schwartz and Savage. Their Fake Empire was actually born at Warner Bros TV three years ago, when WBTV executive Len Goldstein came on board to run it. Schwartz had been at WBTV his entire professional life as a TV writer-producer — going back to his first series, The O.C. Fake Empire has two midseason series on the air — the CW’s The Carrie Diaries and Cult — as well as a slew of projects awaiting word on pilot pickups. The deal with ABC Studios, first reported by Variety, will begin after the end of the current pilot season when the company’s pact with WBTV expires. Fake Empire entered this season with four series on the air, all at the CW, where ABC Studios does not do business — Carrie Diaries, Cult, the departing Gossip Girl and sophomore Hart Of Dixie. ABC should be a good fit for the duo as most of their projects have been in the soap genre the network is known for on the drama side. In features, Fake Empire … Read More »
EXCLUSIVE: Twilight writer Melissa Rosenberg is formalizing her relationship with ABC Studios with an overall deal. The rich pact for Rosenberg and her Tall Girls Prods, which is being finalized, stems from her partnership with the studio on the upcoming midseason ABC series Red Widow. Rosenberg wrote the drama, an adaptation of the Dutch series Penoza, and is executive producing/showrunning for ABC Studios and Endemol. The series stars Rahda Mitchell as a widow of an assassinated criminal who is suddenly forced to adopt her late husband’s role in order to protect her family. Read More »
EXCLUSIVE: ABC Studios is making a concerted effort in the low-cost TV arena with the appointment of Tracy Underwood to run development of cable as well as lower-cost network programming for the studio. ABC Studios had been pondering a formal entrance into the low-cost TV space for a long time. According to industry speculation, one idea floated last spring included launching a dedicated unit referred to as Keystone. Instead, ABC Studios is starting off with one studio executive, Underwood, dedicated to developing lower-cost programming. Read More »
EXCLUSIVE: Feature producer Debra Martin Chase is making a major move in television with a two-year overall deal at ABC Studios. Under the pact, Chase will develop series projects through her company, Martin Chase Prods., with the help of a dedicated TV executive she is in the process of hiring.The deal brings Chase back to ABC where she started her TV career as executive producer on the hit 1997 musical film Cinderella starring Brandy and Whitney Houston. She kept her close ties to the Disney Co. with two hit franchises, The Princess Diaries on the feature side and The Cheetah Girls TV movies on Disney Channel. She also executive produced the successful Disney Channel movie Lemonade Mouth and the ABC Family musical Elixir.
Chase first tested the series waters with the Vivica A. Fox-starring drama 1-800-Missing, which ran on Lifetime for three seasons from 2003-06, and had been looking to return to primetime for a while. “The best drama now is on television with terrific writing and great acting,” she said. “What would be a medium-size feature that may not get made now can move to TV (as a series) with great success.” Chase has had ongoing conversations with executives at ABC, a network where she feels she belongs. “ABC’s brand of sexy, emotional and fun female-driven, character-driven dramas is what I do, so my brand and sensibility fits very well with theirs.” Chase, repped by CAA and attorneys Nina … Read More »
EXCLUSIVE: In their first development season after partnering last June to launch ABC Studios-based Di Bonaventura Pictures Television, Lorenzo Di Bonaventura and Dan McDermott landed a series on the air, ABC’s midseason conspiracy drama Zero Hour. Now the duo have netted one of ABC‘s first drama commitments of the new development cycle with another high-concept project. The network has bought drama pitch Founding Fathers, from Di Bonaventura Pictures TV and ABC Studios. Written by feature scribe Rich D’Ovidio (Exit Woods, Thir13en Ghosts), Founding Fathers is described as “Donnie Brasco set in the world of Texas militias.” It centers on Nick Keating who, after serving a third tour in Afghanistan, returns home to find his small Texas town under the control of a militia group led by his older foster brother. After being seduced by the militia’s surprisingly community-based motives, he accepts a rare invitation to join the group. But unbeknownst to his new “family,” Nick has a secret agenda that will put his life in jeopardy and lead him to question his allegiances. D’Ovidio executive produces with Di Bonaventura and McDermott. Read More »