'Strange Justice' rolls out new unit's slate

The newly formed Fox TV Studios has burst out of the gate with a solid debut slate of telefilms, including the first original movies for the FX cable network.

The first project to go into production will be an irreverent adaptation of the Anita Hill-Clarence Thomas book “Strange Justice,” which will launch FX’s aggressive push to carry original telefilms in 1999.

Fox TV Studios senior vice president of movies and miniseries Marci G. Pool was hired last year from TNT to produce original movies and miniseries for Fox Broadcasting Co., FX, Fox Family Channel and other News Corp. domestic and international outlets.

Fox TV Studios also will produce for outside outlets, but News Corp. projects are the top priority. In another sign of creeping synergy, many of the films are adapted from books published by HarperCollins, which News Corp. owns.

Pool’s slate includes a sprawling Fox Broadcasting Co. miniseries from Matt Damon and Ben Affleck; an adaptation of the book “Accidental Empires” for FX; a “Thelma & Louise” meets talks radio project for FX; and the true story of a cop who infiltrates the Irish gangs of New York City, also for FX.

Cool moves

Pool said it’s her goal to produce “cool, cutting edge movies” for TV that are similar to the ” ’70s, kind of thoughtful, socially aware, movies” like “Chinatown” and “Taxi Driver.”

The largest Fox TV Studios project is the 10- to 12-hour millennium miniseries executive produced by Matt Damon and Ben Affleck for Fox Broadcasting Co., “A People’s History.” The mini, also to air in 1999, is based on Howard Zinn’s HarperCollins book “A People’s History of the United States,” which presents “unsung heroes” and “an alternative view of history, from a young person’s point of view,” Pool said.

The mini also is executive produced by Zinn and Chris Moore, a producer of the Damon-Affleck film “Good Will Hunting,” which included a reference to Zinn’s book.

The first original FX film, “Strange Justice,” will be executive produced by Steven Haft (“Emma,” “Dead Poets Society”) and written by Jacob Epstein (“L.A. Law,” “Hill Street Blues”). The movie will be a darkly comic look at the 1991 Clarence Thomas confirmation hearings.

The film, based on the 1994 book by Wall Street Journal staffers Jane Mayer and Jill Abramson, will be a “witty film making fun of how we sat around for months obsessed with coke cans,” Pool said.

Because “Strange Justice” will be FX’s first original film, Pool is hoping it will “make waves” and help establish the network’s brand, which is an extension of the Fox brand: “Wild, irreverent, smart, with real provocative issues that are done in a way you wouldn’t expect.”

Novel connection

Three other Fox TV Studios movies have been greenlit by FX and are expected to air in 1999: “Accidental Empires,” “Driven” and “Hung Out to Die.”

“Accidental Empires” is based on the HarperCollins book about titans of the computer industry from executive producers Albert and Allen Hughes (“Menace II Society,” “Dead Presidents”). Pool said the movie is about “how geeks change the world.”

“Driven” is about a female executive, frustrated by the justice system, who takes her rapist hostage in his Range Rover and becomes a media sensation when she phones the local shock jock, who debates her case on the air for eight hours. Paula Weinstein (“Citizen Cohn,” “The Fabulous Baker Boys”) is executive producing, while Adrian Hein and Mara Trafficante are writing.

“Hung Out to Die,” directed by William Friedkin (“The French Connection,” “The Exorcist,” “To Live and Die in L.A.”) is the true story of NYPD undercover cop Jimmy Mullan Jr., who is torn between his duty and the love and acceptance he finds in the Irish mob leader he has been sent to destroy. The film will be produced by Smith-Hemion Prods. and written by Chris Canaan (“Drug Wars: The Camerena Story”).

Fox TV Studios is also currently developing two other films for FX: “The Dicks Who Stole Christmas” and “The King Is Dead.”

“The Dicks Who Stole Christmas” is an immorality tale in the vein of “The Positively True Adventures of the Alleged Texas Cheerleader-Murdering Mom,” executive produced by Rita Rudner and Martin Bergman. The film tells the true story of a wealthy Minnesota family who enlists a black, gay transvestite cocaine addict to shoplift luxury items.

“The King Is Dead,” executive produced by Robert Greenwald (‘The Burning Bed”) and written by John Ireland (“Journey to the Center of the Earth”) is a comic Elvis Presley musical seen through the eyes of a small-town undertaker desperate to get his 15 minutes of fame by staging Presley’s funeral. The movie will have a quirky, “Rocky Horror Picture Show” sensibility.

“The King Is Dead” is based on a book from a small publishing company that will team with HarperCollins for wider distribution when the film airs.

Other Fox TV Studios projects under consideration at FX are films about Little Richard, from executive producer John Davis (“Dr. Dolittle,” ‘Courage Under Fire”), and Jerry Springer.

Pool is also developing two comedies for the Fox Family Channel, “ETA,” which is a “Planes, Trains and Automobiles”-type comedy, and a remake of the baseball comedy “It Happens Every Spring.”

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