EXCLUSIVE: While he left the White House to return to Hollywood, Kal Penn is not leaving politics completely behind. Penn’s new project for NBC will be a single-camera workplace comedy set at the United Nations, with Penn playing a key assistant to the U.S. ambassador. Writer-playwright-comedian Raphael Bob-Waksberg has been tapped to write the UMS-produced comedy, which is eyed for next fall. Scot Armstrong and Ravi Nandan’s American Work, which has a first-look deal with UMS, has come on board to co-produce the comedy, with Armstrong and Nandan executive producing alongside Penn and his manager Dan Spilo.
Going for a single-camera workplace comedy on NBC is not surprising — Penn told Mike Fleming in an interview earlier this month that “the shows I’ve most loved in the last couple of years were NBC’ 30 Rock and The Office”, both workplace comedies. And NBC “was the network we felt most in sync from sensibility perspective,” Spilo told me. Penn and Spilo met with the TV networks last year when Penn took a break from his job as White House associate director in the Office of Public Engagement to film the upcoming A Very Harold & Kumar 3D Christmas. Ironically, Penn and Spilo made the NBC deal with entertainment president Angela Bromstad and head of comedy Jeff Ingold, neither of whom are at the network now that the pact is coming into effect. But both new NBC topper Bob Greenblatt and head of comedy Tal Rabinowitz turned out to be Kal Penn fans too, said Spilo, who developed the idea for the show with Penn. The two read a lot of scripts until settling on writer/Upright Citizens Brigade performer Bob-Waksberg, who had penned several pilot scripts, including one set at a governor’s office. At the same time, American Work was making a script deal with Bob-Waksberg. And separately, via its UMS deal, the company had reached out to Penn and Spilo to partner on the Penn comedy. In the end, all combined their efforts. The comedy will reflect some of Penn’s experiences working on the campaign trail as well as at the White House. “Maybe this is a better way for him to serve the people — being on NBC and making people laugh,” Armstrong quipped. Bob-Waksberg and American Work are repped by CAA, Penn by Gersh. Bob-Waksberg is managed by Prinicpato-Young.
Scot Armstrong and Ravi Nandan stumbled into TV producing 2 years ago. The two were working with Nandan’s old friend, writer Jason Mantzoukas, on feature projects when an idea Mantzoukas had felt better suited for TV. The three pitched the idea, it sold to NBC and eventually became the 2009 comedy pilot Off Duty starring Bradley Whitford. The pilot didn’t go to series, but NBC liked Armstrong and Nandan’s brand of comedy and signed their 4-year-old company American Work in a first-look deal. In their first TV development season last year, Armstrong and Nandan sold 4 comedy projects. This season, they have set up 10: 8 at NBC and one each at Fox and FX. “Yeah, things are growing,” Armstrong said. “I think it’s because we push the tea party agenda in all of our half-hour comedies.” Because of their deal with NBC, the bulk of American Work’s development is at the network, which had been stuck in fourth place for the past couple of seasons. “Our goal is to bring NBC from fourth to fourther,“ Armstrong quipped. For Armstrong, a feature writer who has worked on such comedies as Road Trip, Old School and, most recently Hangover II, TV has been a nice change of pace. “I love stepping away from my laptop, getting in a room with writers.” As for the writers they’ve enlisted for development, “we like working with people who are up-and-coming or helping writers make the transition from film,” Nandan said. But mostly, “we went to those people who make us laugh,” Armstrong said. Here is a list of American Work’s TV projects, all comedy: Read More »
Jason Mantzoukas, who has been juggling acting and writing, has sold 2 projects: a feature action comedy pitch I’ve Got Your Girlfriend to 20th Century Fox and a workplace comedy to FX. I’ve Got Your Girlfriend, which is being produced by the Chernin Co., Scot Armstrong and Ravi Nandan, was one of first pitches bought by Jeremy Kramer, Fox’s new EVP of production. It stems from Mantzoukas and Nandan’s desire to do an action comedy in the tradition of Beverly Hills Cop and Die Hard and from their obsession with the 2008 action thriller Taken starring Liam Neeson as a former spy searching for his abducted daughter. “What if we did a comedy version of that?,” Mantzoukas said about the origin of the idea. “Liam is a trained assassin. What if you or me got that call? What would we do? We would get our asses kicked.” In I’ve Got Your Girlfriend, only the central character will be comedic, with the rest envisioned as a Jason Bourne-type action. Read More »