Singer spaced out; scribe rewrites history

NEW YORK — After transforming “X-Men” into a hit (headed for a sequel with him at the helm), director Bryan Singer will steer a relaunch of the cult series “Battlestar Galactica.”

Singer has made a deal with Studios USA to reinvent the series and exec produce it with Tom DeSanto, and he’ll direct the pilot if it doesn’t clash with the “X-Men 2″ shooting schedule.

The studio is finalizing deals with show runners, and will shop to networks shortly.

Hatched in the wake of “Star Wars,” the Glen Larson-created “Battlestar Galactica” premiered on ABC in 1978 and ran two seasons, starring Lorne Greene as the commander of the title vessel.

Despite its brief run, the series has attracted a cult following.

“The lesson I learned on ‘X-Men’ is to have a healthy respect for the fan base of sci-fi fantasy franchises, and I’m confident that the ‘Galactica’ brand is a sleeping giant,” said Singer. “It was a show I watched during its initial run, from the pilot to the final episode. The essence and the brand name is quite potent in a climate where there’s a great deficit of scifi programming.”

The original series was produced by Universal Television and the assets were inherited by Studios USA when Barry Diller took the helm. While USA Television Production Group president David Kissinger got frequent e-mails from fans, he never considered revisiting the turf until Singer’s direct approach.

“I never dreamed a filmmaker of Bryan’s stature would be enough of a hardcore fan that he saw this as a franchise that could be reinvented,” said Kissinger. “In the initial meeting, I was wary that he might be just another feature guy looking to slap his name on a TV project, but it was immediately clear this wasn’t so. He’s got a whole mythology and arc for the series already worked out.”

At $1 million per episode, the original was the highest budgeted drama of its time. A cutting edge reinvention will be pricier, but Kissinger was confident the revenue would be there. “We’ll shop it right away with the goal of having it in a prime time slot on a network, but it’s possible that we might be able to do a dual window scenario with the SciFi Channel,” said Kissinger. “With Bryan’s vision and a brand name which has international appeal, we’re optimistic we’ll be able to make it on the grand scale he imagines. The visual imagery he’s talking about is unprecedented in its effects and scope.”

The show’s being packaged by WMA, which teamed with lawyer David Feldman to make Singer’s deal. The drama will be shepherded by USA senior veep of drama programming Dan Pasternack, with creator Larson also aboard.

Singer unexpectedly has time to immerse himself in “Galactica,” as the film he planned to direct, “Confessions of a Dangerous Mind” has been pushed back post-strike. Singer plans to spend the next few months in full scifi mode, having just signed his “X-Men 2″ deal. He hopes to have that Fox film ready for a possible holiday 2002 bow.

HISTORY LESSONS: While Robert Schenkkan has watched the miniseries adaptation of his Pulitzer Prize-winning “The Kentucky Cycle” stall since Kevin Costner dropped out of the star-director role, he’s now the go-to guy in Hollywood for history-based movie projects.

His adaptation of the Graham Greene novel “The Quiet American” is about to go into production with Philip Noyce directing Michael Caine and Brendan Fraser for Intermedia and Miramax. And Disney-based producer Jerry Bruckheimer got him to write “Knife to the Hilt,” an action film about “Kentucky Cycle” character William Clark Quantrill, a confederate guerilla warrior who led an infamous raid on the abolitionist stronghold town of Lawrence, Kansas.

Schenkkan’s also writing “Iron Man,” the Brillstein-Grey-produced Universal biopic of Olympian Lou Zamperini, who engaged in a test of wills with a brutal Japanese POW camp guard after he was shot down during WWII. Nicolas Cage is attached to star.

At Disney, Schenkkan’s rewriting “The Shores of Tripoli,” a project originated by scribes Lee and Janet Batchler about a desert raid against pirates that was the genesis of the Marine Corps. Schenkkan also adapted the Mary Carr autobiography “The Liar’s Club” for Canal Plus, which is out to directors, as is his scripted adaptation of the Thomas Dyja novel “Play for a Kingdom” for Imagine partners Brian Grazer and Ron Howard. The Civil War novel takes place during Gen. Grant’s brutal push into the South, when Northern and Southern troops took time out from the killing to play baseball.

Finally, Schenkkan’s writing an adaptation of his early play “Heaven on Earth,” a play Jim Carrey has long been interested in. The play’s about the odd relationship between a faithless slacker and his religious grandmother.

The W&A-repped Schenkkan began his career acting in such films as “Pump Up the Volume” and “Act of Vengeance” before the Pulitzer redirected his focus to write fulltime.

“I’ll never forget it,” he said. “They don’t let you talk, they shake your hand, give you a certificate, just like graduation. It’s a lot different from films, where there seems to be an award for everything and a show to go with it.”

DEVILISH SCENARIO: After the electrifying seven-figure book-movie sale of law prof Stephen Carter’s “The Emperor of Ocean Park,” studios were buzzing about “Lucifer,” a new thriller by Michael Cordy, whose “Miracle Strain” got $1.6 million from Disney several years ago. New book’s a futuristic yarn about the development and abuse of computer technologies that permits one to steal souls from expiring bodies. British agent Sam North’s out with the book, and Scott Steindorff, whose Stone Village Prods. has bought about seven significant books in as many months, is the lead contender to align with a studio in a deal.

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