Wells plans run deep

'ER' producer develops six NBC series, plenty of pix

John Wells, executive producer of TV’s top-rated series, “ER,” is developing six new series for NBC next season, and his year-old company, John Wells Prods., has taken its first steps into feature film production.

Wells has an exclusive small-screen deal with Warner Bros. TV and NBC and a first-look feature film deal with Warner Bros. Several of his film projects are set up at other studios, though, including Fox, New Regency and DreamWorks, where he co-executive produced his first feature pic, “The Peacemaker.”

Of the six TV series Wells is developing and executive producing for NBC, all are still in the script stages. However, NBC ponied up several firm series commitments when it inked its exclusive deal with the producer two years ago (Daily Variety, Nov. 16, 1995), and the network will probably pick up at least one Wells series for next fall.

One of the projects, a horror/suspense drama that’s still untitled, will pair Wells once again with “ER” creator and author Michael Crichton. The concept for that series, which would be written by Wells and Crichton, is still being hammered out. Another pilot script for a legal drama called “The Adversaries” is being penned by former “ER” supervising producer Paul Manning and follows the lives of several Washington, D.C., prosecutors and defense attorneys.

A couple of the potential series are being penned by feature writers, including one from Aaron Sorkin, who wrote the films “An American President” and “A Few Good Men.” That series, called “West Wing,” is also a Washington, D.C.-based political drama with comedic overtones that follows the lives of young White House aides. Separately, feature writer Ken Sanzel (“Replacement Killers”) is working on “The Deuce,” a drama about a beat cop on the night shift in Times Square.

Two playwrights are penning pilot scripts about Irish families: New York-based Matthew Carnahan and Boston-based Joanne Waters. Carnahan is writing the drama “Trinity” about a contemporary Irish family living in New York’s Hell’s Kitchen. Waters is writing the only sitcom for Wells’ company, an untitled comedy about a blue-collar Irish family.

Pic panoply

On the film side, Wells is producing three projects at Warner Bros., which are in early stages of development. “Moe Norman,” penned by Barry Morrow (“Rain Man”), is based on the life story of the Canadian golfer. “How It Was With Dooms” is based on a book by Xan and Carol Hopcraft about the true story of a family in Kenya that rescues and raises a cheetah cub named Dooms. “Downsizing,” produced by Wells and Paula Weinstein, is about the effects of corporate downsizing.

Set up at Fox is “Where the Sidewalk Ends,” a remake of Otto Preminger’s gritty 1950 police thriller and forbidden love story, and the pic “Doctor Corp.,” which was written by “ER” co-producer Neal Baer and follows a young surgeon who volunteers his skills in a war-torn foreign nation. Robert Mark Kamen (“The Devil’s Own,” “A Walk in the Clouds”) is adapting the book “Working on a Miracle” by Mahlon Johnson for Fox 2000. Based on a true story, the film is a love story about living with AIDS.

DreamWorks is developing the pic “Thunder Below,” written by Shane Salerno and produced by Wells and Arne Schmidt. The film is based on the book of the same title by Adm. Eugene B. Fluckey, a WWII submarine commander. Incidentally, Salerno also is working on a TV drama for Wells, in the vein of “Miami Vice,” that won’t be considered until midseason 1998-99.

Wells also has a feature in development at New Regency called “Tongues of Angels,” which is based on the novel by David Robbins. It’s a romantic comedy about a ghost of a murdered call girl that possesses the wife of a client.

Wells will continue to serve as executive producer of “ER” while he shepherds his new film and TV projects. NBC early next year is expected to begin negotiations on renewing “ER,” which is expected to be costly for the web. Most industry observers believe the license fee for “ER” could reach or surpass $5 million, although rival networks — perhaps in an attempt to inflate NBC’s costs — are floating rumors of fees double that size and are hoping for the very slim chance to nab the show.

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