In a deal worth high six-figures against low seven figures, Universal will turn the comic strip “Zits” into a live action feature to be produced by Tom Shadyac, Marc Platt and Hearst’s Rick Karo. They’re negotiating with screenwriter Rob Lieber (he wrote the Judd Apatow vehicle “Good to the Last Drop” at Fox) in hopes of fast-tracking a brand name project that will target “Zits” to the clearasil crowd.

“Zits” gives a full facial treatment to kids in those awkward, alienated years between adolescence and college, shown through the eyes of a 15-year old high school freshman having trouble relating to everything from girls to parents. The deal marks the fruition of an effort to get a film project going between Hearst-owned King Features Syndicate and U after the two entities bonded on the Universal Studios Islands of Adventure theme park in Orlando. The park features a swarm of King Features franchise characters and a Popeye’s Island raft ride.

“Zits” is the fastest-growing strip in newspaper history, hitting 800 papers in just two years, and named top comic strip by the National Cartoonists Society in 1998. It was created by cartoonists Jerry Scott (whose other strip “Baby Blues” is an upcoming primetime toon series for the WB Network) and Jim Borgman, a Pulitzer Prize-winning political cartoonist.

Platt hatched the idea of turning the strip into a live action feature with Hearst Ent.’s Karo, and then Platt brought it to Shadyac. U prexy Kevin Misher will oversee it. Shadyac, whose Shady Acres shingle also has a U deal, has signed on to develop the project the way any A-lister with a production shingle does: he’ll produce, with the option to direct. Shady Acres exec Heather Leyton and Platt exec Christian McLaughlin assisted in the “Zits” deal. Shadyac and Lieber are UTA repped.

MORRIS WOES: William Morris agents have more than pinkslips to worry about this week. Dish hears the percenters not targetted for layoffs are concerned about upcoming meetings to scrutinize and weed-out client lists not bringing in the commissions. That’s sure to be painful for agents either with sentimental ties, or talent with potential.

PAYNE ENABLES UNPUBBED BOOK: Hollywood has fallen bigtime for “Sideways,” a book that has studios salivating even though it’s written by a first-time novelist and not only doesn’t have a pub date, it doesn’t even have a publisher. What it does have is Alexander Payne, the in-demand director of “Election,” who has elected to adapt and direct the screen version. The novel’s essentially a road trip a writer and actor take on a lark just before one of them gets hitched. It was written by Rex Pickett, a screenwriter. Producer Michael London optioned it and brought it to Payne, who jumped on it. Though numerous distribberies have pledged to greenlight it sight unseen, Payne has decided to write it on spec as a low cost pic, then set it up. The Endeavor-repped helmer is already bound to do “About Schmidt” at Columbia and “The Locked Room” at Fine Line.

WEB PROVIDING FILMMAKING OUTLET: While Hollywood’s exploitation of the Internet has been mainly limited to promoting films like “The Blair Witch Project,” movement is afoot to make films for the new medium. The Internet is attracting a growing concentration of execs and agents — outgoing Warner Bros. co-topper Terry Semel’s rumored to be mulling involvement in an Internet venture — but the most immediate activity’s being generated by Interactive Pictures, the well-backed company that boasts 360 degree camera technology that could allow viewers to control which part of the picture they see. IPIX earlier this summer formed an alliance with CAA to break into showbiz, and Dish hears they’re now making big offers to prominent filmmakers to test the technology. Scribe sources say IPIX is offering to match studio pay quotes, and give stock options, which could prove lucrative if a public offering is made next year. “Fight Club” helmer David Fincher is said to be seriously mulling a project. The idea is for the creatives to craft short films, since Internet technology isn’t yet advanced enough to facilitate full features. Why would creatives accustomed to bigscreen spend time on an untested medium? One lure is the interactive possibilities, another that the films will eventually be able to be downloaded on DVD for a movie quality picture.

DISHINGS: The first draft of a screenplay of Thomas Harris’s novel “Hannibal” is in by David Mamet for director Ridley Scott. Revisions are under way, but Mamet did a strong enough job to have Universal eyeing a start date by summer 2000. That hope, of course, is cast contingent, with the original cast still being courted … fresh from stints in the studio pics “All the Pretty Horses,” “Texas Rangers,” “Detox,” and the indie “Texas Funeral,” Robert Patrick is doing a multi-episode arc of HBO’s “Sopranos”… Ian Gomez has scored a rare primetime hat trick of being a presence on three sitcoms simultaneously. His “Felicity” character Javier was supposed to be deported and off the show this season, but was spared. Expecting to be unemployed, Gomez took the role of Norm Macdonald’s office mate on “The Norm Show” as well as a recurring role as an office antogaonist on “Drew Carey.” His deportation cancelled, Gomez is doing all three, and will be seen in the upcoming WB feature “The Big Tease.”

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