Comedian Eddie Murphy will executive produce and serve as the voice of the lead character in a new stop-motion animated comedy “The PJs,” which Imagine Television is developing for Fox Broadcasting Co.
Fox is close to ordering 13 episodes of the sitcom for midseason 1998-1999, and if the project pans out, it will be Murphy’s first TV series since the start of his career on “Saturday Night Live.”
The title “The PJs” refers to inner-city housing projects, and Murphy intends to voice the character of Thurgood Stubbs, the superintendent of the mythical Hilton-Jacobs project. The comedy will revolve around Stubbs, his family and his neighbors in the projects.
Two Fox veterans are exec producing the project with Murphy: Steve Tompkins, who has served as a producer on Fox’s long-running animated hit “The Simpsons,” and Larry Wilmore, who was a producer on Fox’s sketch comedy series “In Living Color.”
The Academy Award-winning Will Vinton Studios, best known for bringing the California Raisins to life, will be handling the stop-motion animation, and both Vinton and his partner Tom Turpin will get executive producer credits. “The PJs” will feature foam latex puppets and the same technology employed in the Disney feature pic “James and the Giant Peach.”
Murphy’s last big film hit was also an effects-driven project with Imagine, “The Nutty Professor,” and he’s working on a sequel and some other feature film projects with Imagine as well.
While Fox would not comment on “The PJs,” sources said the web is hoping the comedy will become as big of a franchise as its two current animated series, “The Simpsons” and “King of the Hill.”
Fox has not given a final go-ahead on the project, but if it does, Imagine will get an automatic 13-episode commitment because the technology is so time- and labor-intensive.
No weekly primetime TV series has ever before been done completely in stop-motion animation, and each half-hour episode takes about nine months to produce.
Murphy’s is the second puppet project from a top comedian currently in development for TV. Upstart netlet UPN is developing a comedy called “Ruby” with Whoopi Goldberg as the voice of a diva puppet.
In an effort to staunch the flow of viewers to cable networks, several of the broadcast webs are developing projects for next season that differ from the traditional sitcoms and hour dramas that now flood the airwaves. UPN, for instance, is in talks to develop a variety show using manipulated images of the late Ed Sullivan to introduce new acts.
Fox is the network with the biggest risk-taking tradition, so it’s appropriate for Fox to take a chance on the first stop-motion animation series for primetime.
This isn’t the first time Murphy has considered an animated project for primetime TV. In 1987, Murphy sold rights to an animated series based on his comedy characters to Hanna-Barbera Prods., but the show never made it on the air.