NEW YORK — Jon Lovitz has signed an overall pact with Walt Disney that includes an exclusive TV deal, starting with a sitcom vehicle which reteams him with “The Critic” creators Al Jean and Mike Reiss. The deal also ties him nonexclusively to Disney for a screen deal that includes a guaranteed starring role in a feature, and a production company on the Disney lot to develop films for Lovitz to produce and/or star in.
Disney’s first labor of Lovitz will be the sitcom with Disney-based writing team of Reiss and Jean. The duo, who created “The Critic” after several seasons on “The Simpsons,” expect to have a pilot ready for the fall schedule, possibly with Disney-owned ABC. Though Lovitz was the star voice in the animated Fox series “The Critic,” the sitcom would be his first regular live-action TV work since “Saturday Night Live.”
Since exiting that series, Lovitz has guest-starred on shows like “Seinfeld” and “The Larry Sanders Show,” but avoided numerous series offers because he feared it would hurt his movie aspirations. Films remain his top priority, but Disney won his allegiance over several other studios by wooing him not only for the small screen — where Disney TV toppers Dean Valentine and David A. Neuman coveted him — but also for features, with studio chairman Joe Roth and Touchstone topper Donald DeLine a key part of the recruitment effort.
Master Thespian Prods.?
“Joe Roth wanted me to do a TV series, and I said I wanted to do movies, so he got me a good deal to do the series with Al and Mike, while looking for movies to do at Disney with Donald DeLine,” Lovitz said. “And I’ll have a deal for my own production company, which I’ll probably call Master Thespian Prods. When you have the chairman of Disney saying I want you and I’ll be behind you, how can you beat that?”
After patenting a repertoire of “SNL” characters that included the above-mentioned Master Thespian and Pathological Liars Anonymous president Tommy Flanagan, Lovitz has worked steadily in films, mostly in character actor co-starring roles. His credits include “City Slickers II,” “A League of Their Own” and “Big.” He most recently toplined the TriStar comedy “High School High.” Meanwhile, he’s watched other TV stars get movie opportunities and decided it was safe to return to tube duty.
“I’ve looked at shows like ‘Friends’ and ‘ER,’ and it seems that if you’re on a top show, you’re offered a lot of movies,” Lovitz said. “Michael J. Fox went back on a series and I hear he’s getting movies again. My feeling once was that if I do TV, I won’t be able to work with big directors, but now it seems like it doesn’t matter. And TV is more immediate and more fun. You do the show every week and you get to act a lot more. My last film was ‘High School High,’ and I haven’t done a movie in a year.”
His next screen assignment will likely be a starring role in the Columbia comedy “What Planet Are You From?” starring another sitcom star, Garry Shandling, who wrote the script. If Shandling proves ready and finds a director, the current plan is to have the film in production with Shandling, Lovitz and Annette Bening.
Landing Lovitz was a coup for Disney’s Valentine and Neuman. “He had been on our dream list of people we wanted to be in business with, and I think he’s certainly one of the most popular character actors of our generation,” Neuman said. “He’s not only funny and original, but several of the characters he created not only are well-remembered but created a national craze. He’s the ultimate blue-chip talent and we’re hoping to be ready with a pilot in time for the fall season.”
Lovitz’s deal was engineered by his Endeavor agent, Adam Venit, and his manager, Marc Gurvitz of Brillstein-Grey. Brillstein-Grey will consult on the series.