Pact makes thesp master of his domain

Jason Alexander and 20th Century Fox Television have made an exclusive two-year deal that’s expected to put the former “Seinfeld” sidekick back in a primetime series by early 2001.

The wide-ranging pact makes Alexander master of his domain, giving him ample creative control over the particulars of his return to television.

Once a skein is set with a network, he’s expected to make north of $200,000 per episode, with the web landing the project responsible for the lion’s share of Alexander’s fee. A 22-seg commitment is considered all but a given, according to industry insiders.

Deal also includes a first-look feature arrangement with Fox’s film division and housing for Alexander’s AngelArk production company, which is currently developing numerous TV, feature and stage productions.

“Jason is an immense talent whose remarkable range in front of the camera and his interest in working behind it should create opportunities across the board,” said Fox Television Entertainment Group chairman Sandy Grushow, who was upped last week to a new position at Fox which gives him oversight of both 20th Century Fox TV (TCFTV) and Fox Broadcasting.

“We were well aware that networks, studios and indies all across town were pursuing him,” Grushow said, “but what really made our case was that TCFTV alone could provide him a home with the breadth and depth of support and expertise he was seeking in a partner.”

Alexander’s deal with TCFTV was brokered by William Morris agent Marc Schwartz and attorney Michael Gendler of Gendler & Kelly.

The pact makes Alexander the second member of the core “Seinfeld” cast this fall to plot a return to primetime: Michael Richards, who played Cosmo Kramer, is reteaming with several former “Seinfeld” scribes and Castle Rock for a half-hour detective comedy which has a minimum six-seg commitment from NBC. The skein will debut in spring or fall 2000.

Julia Louis-Dreyfus has spurned series overtures, and as for Jerry Seinfeld, his lone long-term commitment has come in the form of a well-publicized engagement to girlfriend Jessica Sklar.

Alexander said he decided to do another series mainly because a sitcom schedule is more conducive to raising two young children than work in theater or on a one-hour drama — options he contemplated. He also insisted on a gradual return so that auds would have time to accept the notion that he could play a character other than George Costanza.

“I wanted a three-year moratorium because I felt the audience would need that long to let the whole George thing go. I’m not terribly interested in redoing that kind of character,” Alexander said.

As for the idea of doing another series, “I’d describe the feeling as a pleasant mix of excitement and terror,” he said.

No specific timetable has been set for Alexander’s series comeback, but he’s already begun meeting with writers about possible concepts. A fall 2000 bow hasn’t been ruled out, but with writer and network deals yet to be struck, midseason 2000-01 is considered a more likely target.

While Alexander wants to distance himself from Costanza, he’d like nothing more than to do his new show with the man on whom the character of George was based: “Seinfeld” co-creator Larry David.

“Larry would be my first call, but he’s told me that special he did for HBO might become a series,” said Alexander.

With David a longshot, Alexander said, “There’s a whole bunch of other people I’d like to see. You never know where that amazing idea is going to come from.”

Alexander is aware that whatever he does next is unlikely to match the phenomenal success of “Seinfeld,” a cash cow that has generated nearly $2 billion in revenue, and got Alexander a $600,000 per episode salary for his final season.

“I don’t think Sandy (Grushow), myself or anyone else has the illusion that this will become the next ‘Seinfeld,’ because that show caught the tail end of an era when cable was just taking off and the Internet didn’t exist,” he said.

“There weren’t that many viewing options out there, and that allowed it to become a major television hit. Frankly, the audience just isn’t there anymore. I do think we can do something as interesting and hopefully very funny, which is a rare combination of elements these days.”

While Alexander had offers from several other studios and webs, he said Grushow’s passion and willingness to house his production company were the reasons he signed with TCFTV.

“They have a wonderful talent pool, and Sandy embraced not only the idea of having me do the series for them, but also the concept of getting in bed with my company, giving me a real live producer, developer and a commitment to grow and enhance the company,” Alexander said.

AngelArk development veep Jennifer Birchfield-Eick and two other development execs will be housed at TCFTV as part of the deal.

Among the projects on the AngelArk slate:

  • “Liquid Soap,” an interactive weekly half-hour comic soap opera which has gotten a 30-episode commitment from Fox Family Channel.

  • “The Jonathan Pollard Story,” a Showtime pic in which Alexander will star as the man sentenced to life in prison for leaking U.S. secrets to the Israelis.

  • “The Jim Thomas Story,” also set for Showtime, in which Martin Landau stars as an elderly juror badgered into convicting a man for child molestation.

  • A possible musical for ABC and Disney titled “Once on This Island,” which Alexander is set to direct, along with a second untitled live-action musical.

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