‘Professionals’ returns, so should Letterman

Columbia Pictures has set Bruce Feirstein to script a contemporized remake of the gritty 1966 Western “The Professionals.” Feirstein wrote the last three 007 pics including “The World Is Not Enough.” In a high-six-figure deal, he will update the gritty oater, which starred Burt Lancaster, Lee Marvin and Jack Palance. The film will be a co-production between Ray Stark’s Rastar and John Woo’s Lion Rock Prods., produced by Marykay Powell, Don Safran, Michael Cieply, Woo and Terence Chang.

The original film was adapted and directed by Richard Brooks from a Frank O’Rourke novel. It’s a turn-of-the-(previous-)century Western in which mercenaries are hired by a wealthy ranch owner to track down one of their old gang who kidnapped the man’s wife. The film earned Columbia three Oscar nominations, and it’s Lion Rock’s first major project at Col. The project will be spearheaded by Col’s Doug Belgrad. Feirstein’s repped by APA’s David Saunders.

LETTERMAN’S EARLY RETURN?: Though David Letterman was expected to convalesce for an extended period after heart bypass surgery, he’s rallied enough to make his return imminent. The date is being kept secret, but here’s Dish’s suggestion: Since Letterman was shelved by a ticker problem, what better date to return with a healthy heart than Feb. 14, Valentine’s Day?

SCRIBE TEAM FROM HUMBLE ORIGINS: Ed Decter and John J. Strauss, who wrote “There’s Something About Mary” with the Farrellys, have a sudden surge of big- and small-screen activity. Among other features, they’ve got Jamie Foxx poised to topline the Warner Bros. comedy “Fugly,” a Philip Stark-scripted comedy about the ugliest man in the world, and “Sin City Blues,” a buddy comedy to star Steve Harvey and his sitcom sidekick Cedric the Entertainer. The script, by Bennie R. Richburg Jr., Jeffery S. Dyson & Rusion McDonald, is about to be shopped to studios. On the small screen, they’re co-exec producing four series that got pilot orders. They’ve created, with former “Friends” exec producer Michael Curtis, the sitcom “Eternally Andy,” an FBC pilot which shapes up as yet another comedic saga of a 3,000 year old nightclub owner. With Matt Ember, Decter and Strauss have created an untitled interracial romantic comedy for Aisha Taylor, and the team will exec produce with Tom Astle “No, You Drive,” an Astle creation about a man who works out of his home to grow closer to his family, only to find the family works better without him.

Perhaps the most unusual is an FBC show which is inspired by David Kelley’s comedy-drama hybrid “Ally McBeal” as well as by the frivolous mayhem served up daily by the local L.A. morning TV shows. The duo teamed with “How Stella Got Her Groove Back” director Kevin Rodney Sullivan to hatch “Back to You,” a one-hour piece eyed as a possible companion to “Ally McBeal,” with Nia Long in the starring role. “She has told the world she’ll be the next Diane Sawyer, but when she gets her big-market shot on Action News, she’s covering a contest to determine the world’s largest burrito,” said Sullivan. Like the protagonist, all three come from humble showbiz origins: Sullivan was a semi-regular cast member of the oft-forgotten Chachi era of “Happy Days”; Decter left a promising p.a. job at Troma to work for producer Edgar Scherick, only to be summarily canned for delivering a dirty spoon with his vegetable shake; and Strauss began as a “Barnaby Jones” p.a. who doubled as stunt hands for Buddy Ebsen. “You’d see my hands in all the close-ups, like when he stopped the car and reached in the glove box for a map or gun,” Strauss bragged. The duo is repped by BKWU and lawyered by Ernie Dell, with the quartet of TV pilots set up with ATG.

MORE HUGHES: The story of Howard Hughes is so compelling that even his bogus biographer is getting his second shot at being a film subject. Mutual Film Co. has optioned the rights to “The Hoax,” the book Clifford Irving wrote about his experiences penning a phony Hughes autobio for McGraw-Hill. Irving, who did time for his outrageous stunt, will be a technical adviser on the project that reps the first time he has sold the book for movie treatment. It’s not the first time an Irving pic was hatched: The “Snake Eyes” team of David Koepp, Brian DePalma and Nicolas Cage planned an Irving project, which stalled when “Snake Eyes” crapped out.

The new pic, scripted by the UTA-repped Bill Wheeler, will be produced by Joshua D. Maurer’s City Entertainment and Mutual partners Mark Gordon and Gary Levinsohn. Mutual’s Suzanne Patmore is shepherding the project.

FROM ONE WEB TO ANOTHER: Matt Edelman, the Marvel Entertainment senior veep who shepherded the development of such big Marvel movie projects as “Spider-Man,” has kissed goodbye the webslinger biz to work on the Web. He’s joined eruptor.com as senior veep of content, with the mandate to develop and acquire original episodic programming for a Web site geared toward the teen set. Edelman, hired by Eruptor co-founder Brad Foxhoven, was a key exec under Marvel topper Avi Arad in the areas of features and animated series. “Matt was my right-hand man for years, but he’s ready to fly with his own wings,” said Arad. “He’s got a unique knowledge of how to transfer franchises to film, TV and the Internet.”

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