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Reubens, Imagine set up variety series

Paul Reubens will take on a new alter ego, along with a wife, for an NBC variety show expected to bow next year.

NBC confirmed Monday it has a struck a deal with Imagine Television for a new primetime variety show fronted by Reubens, better known as Pee-wee Herman. Sources said NBC had given a 13-episode commitment to the project, targeted for a fall 1998 debut, but NBC officials would not elaborate on the deal.

The pact marks Imagine’s first major series project under the direction of Tony Krantz, the former CAA agent who became co-chairman and CEO of Imagine Television in April. The show will be exec produced by Reubens, Krantz and Imagine principals Brian Grazer and Ron Howard.

Reubens is developing a new character to serve as the host of the show, described as Reubens’ homage to vintage grab-bag entertainment vehicles hosted by such TV legends as Ernie Kovacs, Ed Sullivan and Jack Benny. Actress Monica Ganis is set to co-star with Reubens as his wife.

It’s still to be determined whether the show will be an hour or a half-hour. The program will feature up-and-coming acts selected by Reubens, as well as a regular troupe of fictional characters.

Reubens’ return to series TV comes after a well received turn last season on “Murphy Brown.” He starred in the CBS Saturday morning series “Pee-wee’s Playhouse” from 1986-1991.

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