Universal Television has signed a talent holding deal with singer Ricky Martin to develop and star in his first network television series as well as TV specials. “Ricky is an iconic superstar who is as talented as he is popular,” said Universal TV EVP Bela Bajaria. “Whether he’s performing before sold-out concert crowds, or starring on Broadway, where he is currently playing to SRO in Evita, Ricky connects with his audience in a very palpable way — and we are thrilled that he will be adding TV star to his incredible resume.” Martin recently had a memorable guest appearance on Fox’s Glee.
EXCLUSIVE: Universal Television today entered into a first-look deal with Oni Press and Closed On Mondays. It’s a multiyear agreement between the indie comic and graphic novel publishers and Universal TV. “Oni and Closed on Mondays Entertainment’s underlying material is distinct, high-concept and entertaining. Their content, which can travel to any network in conjunction with their producing experience, makes them a unique pod for Universal TV,” said Universal TV’s Bela Bajaria.
The sister companies, who were the publishers and producers behind Scott Pilgrim vs. The World, have several projects based on their publications already in development: Oni is working with Showtime on the demon gangster saga The Damned, with Syfy on the Cold War legacy series Ghost Projekt, and on Amy Devlin, based on Oni’s Amy Devlin Mysteries publication, for E! Entertainment,. Closed on Mondays is run by Eric Gitter, with Andy Bourne heading the TV division, Noah Greenshner in development and Steve Scavelli. Publisher Joe Nozemack runs Oni Press with editor-in-chief James Lucas Jones. Oni Press and Closed on Mondays are repped by WME, Intellectual Artist Management and attorney Fred Goodman.
EXCLUSIVE: Jason Katims, the Emmy-winning writer-executive producer behind Friday Night Lights and Parenthood, has extended his relationship with the studio behind both series, Universal Television, in a new overall deal. Under the two-year pact, Katims will continue as executive producer on NBC’s Parenthood, in addition to developing new projects through his banner which he plans to build up into a full-fledged production company. As a key initial step, Katims has hired his first executive. Michelle Lee, VP at Alex Kurtzman and Roberto Orci K/O Paper Products, will join Katims’ company as head of development. “Jason Katims’ gift of writing deep, rich, complicated characters and relationships is a rare quality,” Universal TV EVP Bela Bajaria said. “We are excited to develop new shows with him this year and to continue to go on a journey with his characters on the new season of Parenthood.”
Katims said his great experience collaborating with other writers over the years, most recently with FNL‘s David Hudgins this past season, was key in his decision to take the next step and launch a production company. In the company’s first cycle, Katims plans to develop something for himself to write as well as supervise a couple of projects from other writers. “Michelle and will focus on quality as opposed to quantity and will start with a small slate of projects that we are passionate …
EXCLUSIVE: Showtime‘s SVP Programming Pearlena Igbokwe may reunite with her former Showtime boss Bob Greenblatt at NBC. I’ve learned that Igbokwe is being considered for a new head of current programming position at Universal Television. The studio had been mulling the addition of a current executive in light of its increased volume: Uni TV is adding eight new series heading into next season on top of its returning ones.
Igbokwe, a beloved executive at Showtime, just left the pay cable network after 20 years as her contract was up this month. She was replaced by Imagine TV veteran Robin Gurney, who recently left the production company and is reuniting with her former Imagine TV boss David Nevins at Showtime. I hear that, after spending virtually her entire career at Showtime, Igbokwe had been looking for new opportunities. “It was very bittersweet for her to leave and plenty of tears were shed on her last day,” one insider said. “Pearlena is a wonderful executive, and equally important, she is a high-quality, kind person filled with integrity.”
EXCLUSIVE: Comedy writer-producer DJ Nash has signed an overall deal with Universal TV. Under the two-year pact, Nash will develop new projects and serve as an executive producer on the studio’s Up All Night, working alongside executive producer/showrunner Tucker Cawley. Up All Night, created by Emily Spivey and starring Christina Applegate, Will Arnett and Maya Rudolph, has been renewed for a second season with a 13-episode order. Nash most recently wrote the comedy project Let It Go for Sony Pictures TV and Peter Tolan’s Fedora Entertainment. His script received a cast-contingent pilot order at Fox and was produced after landing Zachary Levi as the lead. CAA-repped Nash also served as a co-executive producer on the NBC/Universal TV midseason comedy series Bent.
EXCLUSIVE: Nurse Jackie co-creator Liz Brixius has signed an overall deal with Universal Television. The rich two-year pact reunites Brixius with former Showtime entertainment president Bob Greenblatt, who developed and put Nurse Jackie on the air and now oversees NBC and Universal TV as NBC Entertainment chairman. Under the new deal, Brixius will develop new projects for Uni TV.
Brixius recently left Nurse Jackie, on which she served as co-showrunner for four seasons alongside fellow co-creator/executive producer Linda Wallem, who also departed. The two co-created the dark comedy starring Edie Falco with Evan Dunsky. Nurse Jackie was the first TV series for Brixius, who previously teamed with Wallem to co-create another Showtime project, Insatiable, which was picked up to pilot by Greenblatt and led to the duo’s gig on Nurse Jackie. In addition to her four-year stint on Nurse Jackie, Brixius, repped by WME and Jamie Mandelbaum, has been busy in features; she co-wrote the recent Katherine Heigl movie One For The Money.
EXCLUSIVE: Emmy-winning comedy writer-producer Matt Hubbard (30 Rock) has closed an overall deal with Universal Television. Under the two-year pact, he will develop and supervise new projects for the studio. “Matt is a unique, funny and sophisticated writer,” Universal TV EVP Bela Bajaria said. “We developed a big idea–funny script with him last season that we loved and now we are excited to dive in with new ideas this year.”
Hubbard has spent the last six seasons as a writer-producer on the critically praised NBC/Universal TV comedy 30 Rock, which he joined right after the pilot as a co-producer, rising through the ranks to a co-executive producer for the last three seasons. He won an Emmy in 2009 for writing the Reunion episode of the office comedy and also was nominated in the category in 2010 and 2011. Additionally, Hubbard shared in 30 Rock’s best comedy series win in 2009. He is extending his relationship with 30 Rock creator/executive producer Tina Fey to the big screen, currently writing an untitled Tina Fey project for Universal TV’s sibling Universal Pictures. Hubbard, repped by UTA and attorney Ken Richman, has spent most of his TV career so far on NBC shows. He started on dramedy Ed and also worked on the Friends spinoff Joey.
Writer-producer Michael Oates Palmer (The West Wing) has signed a two-year overall deal with Universal Television. The pact, which starts in June, comes on the heels of Palmer developing two hourlong projects at Universal TV’s sister network NBC — American Exile, a contemporary take on the Casablanca love triangle, with McG’s Wonderland and Warner Bros. TV, and The Hurt, a medical drama with the Shepherd-Robin Co and WBTV. The latter was originally set up at FX. Additionally, ICM-repped Palmer recently turned in his script for Skinny Dip, a half-hour adaptation of Carl Hiaasen’s novel for HBO with Michael Keaton attached to produce and potentially star. Palmer’s series credits also include AMC’s Rubicon and ABC’s Cupid. This is the latest of a slew of overall deals at Universal TV, which has been aggressively beefing up its talent roster this spring, heading into next development season.
Universal Television has closed about a half-dozen overall deals over the past few weeks, with several more in the works. The completed pacts include renewals for Peter Berg & Sarah Aubrey’s production company Film 44 and writers Alexandra Cunningham and Michael Pennie and first-time agreements with Victor Fresco new Sarah Watson. The brisk deal-making comes months after NBC announced its plans to reestablish its production arm into a full-fledged studio, renamed it Universal Television and tapped Bela Bajaria to run it. Bajaria said the replenishing of the studio’s talent roster is part of “the long-term goal to rebuild Universal Television into a major supplier of quality, ground-breaking, successful dramas and comedies.”
Last summer, the studio stepped up to re-up The Office and Parks & Recreation executive producer Greg Daniels and sign a pod deal with Peter Traugott. Both pacts resulted in pilots this season — Daniels wrote and executive produces comedy Friday Night Dinner and Traugott’s company is behind dramas Midnight Sun and Do No Harm. The larger than normal volume of Universal TV overall deals stems from the fact that, eager to start their first development season after the restructuring with a fully-staffed roster of writers, the studio’s brass moved to make those deals early as they plan to be aggressive next cycle. In making overall pacts, the studio has the financial backing of NBC’s new owners but is not going on a spending spree, instead taking a targeted …
EXCLUSIVE: Comedy writer-producer Michael Pennie has signed a new two-year overall deal with Universal Television. Pennie first inked a deal at the studio (then UMS) in 2010 when he was coming off a stint as a co-executive producer on the NBC/20th TV comedy series My Name Is Earl. Under his pact with UMS, he served as a co-executive producer of the studio’s NBC comedy series Outsourced. This season, CAA-repped Pennie has been loaned out to 20th TV where he reunited with My Name Is Earl creator Greg Garcia, serving as a co-executive producer on his latest comedy series, Fox’s Raising Hope.
EXCLUSIVE: Parenthood Co-Executive Producer Sarah Watson has signed a two-year overall deal with Universal Television, the studio behind the NBC dramedy. This marks the first overall pact for Watson, who has been on Parenthood since day one, rising through the ranks from producer to co-executive producer. Keeping Watson in the fold was important to Parenthood executive producer/showrunner Jason Katims who has a new pilot, County, in consideration at NBC. Under her pact, Watson is expected to work on Parenthood if it is renewed for a fourth season, which appears likely, or County, if it is picked up to series. Additionally, UTA-repped Watson will embark on her first development.
EXCLUSIVE: British novelist-screenwriter Neil Cross, creator of the BBC series Luther, is coming to American television. In his first formal U.S. TV pact, Cross has signed a two-year overall deal with Universal Television to develop new series projects. “Neil Cross is a visionary and we are huge fans of his stellar work on Luther,” Universal TV EVP Bela Bajaria said. “We look forward to working with him to create a big broadcast network hit.” Lurher has garnered accolades on both sides of the pond, earning star Idris Elba a Golden Globe award and an Emmy nomination. Its most recent prize came last week, when Luther was named best drama series at the British Royal TV Society Awards. On the feature side, Cross was recently tapped by Ghost House Pictures to write The Day Of The Triffids, based on the classic sci-fi horror novel written by John Wyndam and the 1962 film Invasion Of The Triffids. Cross previously penned two Guillermo del Toro-produced genre films: Mama, staring Jessica Chastain, which is in post-production; and actioner Midnight Delivery, which is being fast-tracked. Del Toro also enlisted Cross for a polish on his upcoming giant-budget monster movie Pacific Rim. Cross, who recently did TV development at 20th Century Fox Television, is repped by UTA, UK-based Independent Talent Group and attorneys Fred Toczek and Bruce Gellman.
EXCLUSIVE: Former Friends executive producer Wil Calhoun has signed a two-year overall deal with Universal Television. This marks Calhoun’s return to the studio where he was under overall deals from 2004-08. “Wil is a talented writer with a Southern upbringing which adds a distinct voice to his work,” Universal TV EVP Bela Bajaria said. “He has also both mainstream single-camera and multi-camera experience.” In addition to his five-year stint on the NBC/Warner Bros TV hit comedy Friends, Calhoun co-created/executive produced another multicamera comedy series for Warner Bros, the WB’s What I Like About You. UTA-repped Calhoun’s single-camera comedy experience includes Sons & Daughters, which he worked for while at NBC Universal. For the past several years, he has been developing projects and consulting on shows.
EXCLUSIVE: Alexandra Cunningham, who developed and executive produced NBC’s Prime Suspect, has signed a new overall deal with the studio behind the series, Universal Television. Under the two-year, seven-figure pact, Cunningham will develop new projects for the studio, which now is a supplier not only to NBC but also to other broadcast and cable networks. “Alex Cunningham is a fantastic writer who can shape complicated characters and already has new, break-out ideas for next season,” said Universal TV EVP Bela Bajaria. “She is well-regarded and we are excited to work with her in the upcoming year on a new slate of shows.
NBC had tried to develop an U.S. version of iconic British series Prime Suspect with another writer, but it was Cunningham’s take that got to a pilot stage and her script that attracted Maria Bello for the lead. The pilot went to series, which was well received and developed a cult following but ultimately didn’t draw an audience large enough to get a full-season order. However, Prime Suspect was a favorite of NBC brass who have re-upped the overall deals of all key auspices on the show, Cunningham and executive producers Peter Berg and Sarah Aubrey of Film 44. Before moving to NBC and Universal TV in 2010, WME-repped Cunningham was based at ABC Studios and was a key writer-producer on the first six seasons of Desperate Housewives. During her time on the dramedy series, she wrote more …
EXCLUSIVE: Peter Berg & Sarah Aubrey’s production company Film 44 has inked a new overall deal with Universal Television. Under the two-year pact, the two will develop and produce new projects for the studio, which has been transformed by the new NBC regime from an NBC production arm into a supplier to all broadcast and cable networks. Universal TV EVP Bela Bajaria noted that keeping Film 44 in the studio family was an easy decision. “Pete Berg and Sarah Aubrey have exquisite taste and are amazing producers,” she said. “They are well-respected within the community and we look forward to a very productive relationship under the new Universal TV banner.”
Under its previous overall deal with the studio, Film 44 produced NBC/Universal TV’s Prime Suspect. Berg directed the pilot, which was picked up to series, with him and Aubrey executive producing the drama starring Maria Bello. Berg and Aubrey’s previous two series were also for NBC, the acclaimed Friday Night Lights, based on Berg’s 2004 movie, and medical drama Trauma. (FNL, which won 2 major Emmy awards for its final season, finished its run on DirecTV.) On TV, WME-repped Film 44 recently produced the HBO unscripted series On Freddie Roach, a cinéma-vérité look at the famous boxing trainer. In features, it’s behind the upcoming tentpole Universal movie Battleship, directed by Berg.
EXCLUSIVE: Adam Levine is no accidental TV producer. After a single-camera karaoke comedy project he executive produces sparked a bidding war in July before landing at NBC with penalty, the rocker-turned-reality star has set up a second project with NBC as a producer — this time on the drama side. Titled Awesome Splendor, the project is set in the world of rock ‘n’ roll and is from Parenthood executive producer/director Lawrence Trilling. Trilling will write and direct the project and executive produce it with Levine and Levine’s manager Jordan Feldstein for Universal Television. Trilling come up with the idea for the show and began looking for a partner with strong rock credentials. Since Maroon 5 frontman Levine is repped by the same agency (CAA) and attorney (Karl Austen), the matchmaking was easy and the two hit it off. Levine has become quite the NBC man now, with a starring gig on the network’s singing reality series The Voice and now two projects for the network targeted for next fall, both with music themes. The karaoke comedy, from 20th TV and Chernin Entertainment, is being written by Gene Hong, with Jake Kasdan directing and executive producing and Levine and Feldstein executive producing.
EXCLUSIVE: NBC has bought a half-hour comedy from actress-comedian Andrea Savage and director-producer Jay Roach. Savage will write and star in the multi-camera project, which is being produced by Universal Television, with Roach and Jennifer Perini executive producing through their Everyman Pictures. The untitled comedy centers on a woman who prides herself on her humor and edge and refuses to become typical after becoming a parent for the first time. The project is semi-autobiographical as Savage too had her first child 2 years ago. Her first gig coming back was a co-starring role in Jay Roach’s 2010 feature comedy Dinner For Schmucks, where the two first worked together. Groundlings Theatre alumna Savage, repped by UTA and Mosaic, also co-starred in the movie Step Brothers. On TV, she starred and wrote for the Comedy Central series Dog Bites Man and HBO’s Funny Or Die Presents and was most recently seen guest starring in last week’s episode of ABC’s Modern Family. Roach, whose credits also include the Meet The Parents franchise and HBO’s Recount, is with CAA and Mosaic.
EXCLUSIVE: NBC is developing a Latino family drama with dance elements executive produced by top choreographer/director Kenny Ortega and The Event executive producer Steve Stark. Ortega is also set to direct the untitled project, about a multi-generational Hispanic family running a Latin dance studio in Miami. Ligiah Villalobos (Under The Same Moon/La Misma Luna) has been hired to write the script, with Todd Robinson serving as a non-writing producer. Ortega, Stark and Robinson developed the world and the characters on the show, drawing on personal stories centered around their families and their connection to dance. Universal Television is producing with studio-based Steve Stark Prods. This is the second high-profile project this season about a Latino family in Miami, joining Fox’s dramedy written and executive produced by Ugly Betty creator Silvio Horta and executive produced by Jennifer Lopez. Paradigm-repped Ortega, director of the hit High School Musical franchise and the Michael Jackson documentary This Is It, was recently tapped to direct Lionsgate’s Dirty Dancing remake. (He choreographed the 1987 original.) CAA-repped Stark executive produces USA’s Fairly Legal. Villalobos is with ICM and Levity.
A month after Bela Bajaria was given the reins of NBC’s production arm with the mandate to re-establish it as a full-fledged, stand-alone studio, Universal Television has sold two projects to non-NBC networks, comedy End Of The World to ABC and untitled FBI drama to CBS. In addition to Bajaria’s hire, the company’s rapid transformation over the past month also includes the assembling of a top executive team under her with the appointment of heads of comedy, drama and casting, as well as a name change from Universal Media Studios to Universal Television and a new logo (above, animated version below). This marks a return to UMS’ old days, before it was consolidated into NBC 3 years ago, when it developed and produced series for other networks, including Sons And Daughters and Complete Savages for ABC. Here are details on the first 2 non-NBC projects to come out of Universal TV: