‘South’ tops ABC telepix

Close to star, co-produce

NEW YORK — In a clear attempt to put the network into the event telepic and miniseries game under recently named exec VP for movies and miniseries Susan Lyne, ABC has lined up several star-studded projects, topped by an adaptation of the Rodgers & Hammerstein musical “South Pacific” to star Glenn Close, who will be executive producer with Hallmark Entertainment chairman Robert Halmi Sr.

The network, which recently gave the thumbs-up to a high-profile unauthorized biopic of Nancy Reagan, is also preparing a controversial dissection of the defense team that got O.J. Simpson acquitted of double murder charges.

Based on “American Tragedy: The Uncensored Story of the Simpson Defense” by Lawrence Schiller and James Willwerth, the film is being scripted by Norman Mailer and will be directed by Barry Levinson.

For “South Pacific,” the network got two-time Oscar winning composer Michael Gore (“Fame) and writer Lawrence D. Cohen (“Carrie”) to adapt the Rodgers & Hammerstein musical for a three-hour presentation to air next year — the 50th anniversary of the show’s Broadway opening on April 7, 1949, when it won the Pulitzer Prize and eight Tony Awards, including best musical. Close will play Nellie Forbush, the role originated onstage by Mary Martin.

Back to source material

Gore and Cohen are including all of the original numbers from the musical by Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein, but they have gone back to the source material — two short stories from James Michener’s collection “Tales of the South Pacific” — to expand the scope of the original musical.

Close recently signed a producing deal at Disney. She recently won a Tony for her Norma Desmond in Andrew Lloyd Webber’s “Sunset Boulevard.”

“I have dreamed of playing Nellie Forbush my whole life and so am completely thrilled to be a part of this exciting production,” said Close. They will shoot in the South Pacific later this year.

ABC is making a clear attempt to graduate from disease-of-the-week fare, with some early help from Halmi, whose recent ratings successes have included the Patrick Stewart starrer “Moby Dick” for the USA Network and the Sam Neill starrer “Merlin” for NBC.

Star search

ABC is looking for stars to topline “Cleopatra,” a four-hour epic based on “Memoirs of Cleopatra” by Margaret George. Andrei Konchalovsky will direct, based on a script by Steve Harrigan (“Oceans of Storm”).

Separately, the network has made a deal with Jerry Bruckheimer, the Disney-based producer behind the studio’s summer blockbuster hopeful “Armageddon,” to produce his first actioner for the small screen. Entitled “Max Q,” the film is about a space shuttle accident that strands the astronauts in space. Originally scripted for the bigscreen by John Lee Hancock, it has been adapted for a telepic by Robert Avrech.

‘Grand’ Turow deal

ABC and Lyne have also made a deal with Scott Turow, the bestselling author of “Presumed Innocent,” to write “The Grand Jury,” an original film for the network. The pic will be produced by Jon Avnet and Jordan Kerner, the team behind “Fried Green Tomatoes.”

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