McVeigh not the mini's focus, Abrams sez

NEW YORK — CBS has purchased rights to “American Terrorist: Timothy McVeigh and the Oklahoma City Bombing,” and will use the book by Lou Michel and Dan Herbeck as the basis for a miniseries about the most costly act of terrorism in American history.

McVeigh, convicted of detonating a homemade bomb in front of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Office Building, killing 168 people, including 19 children, was executed earlier this week. The project was set up by Sunta Izzicupo, CBS’ senior veep of movies and minis.

The drama will be produced by ATG and Gerry Abrams’ Cypress Point. Abrams is coming off the TNT mini “Nuremberg,” and is working with James Ellroy on ABC’s “Detour,” a telepic about the fiery romance between screen queen Lana Turner and Johnny Stompanato, who was killed by a knife wound inflicted by Turner’s daughter. The authors of “American Terrorist” got 75 hours of taped interviews with McVeigh and access to his family, and the book fueled a press frenzy because of comments the killer made that indicated he felt no remorse. McVeigh won’t be the focus of the mini, said Abrams, who’s about to seal a top writer.

“The miniseries we want to make will follow the template of ‘Traffic,’ where seemingly unrelated people are involved in a common crisis,” said Abrams. “When I read the book, I was left feeling that because so much attention had been devoted to McVeigh, that the public was unaware of so many individual acts of heroism from people involved in the Oklahoma City incident.”

Among the heroes, he said, was the cop who pulled over McVeigh’s getaway car, which the killer had stripped of license plates. That led to a chain of events and good fortune that had McVeigh pinned as the prime suspect within 24 hours of the bombing. Abrams said the last thing he wanted to do was “further McVeigh’s legacy,” though there will be some dramatization of how a kid from a middle-class family becomes disillusioned enough to commit such a heinous act. Joel Gotler of AMG/Renaissance brokered the book deal.

SCHIFF-TING TO STAGE Emmy-winning “West Wing” star Richard Schiff is keeping his acting chops sharp during the show’s hiatus. He’s toplining “Nightfall,” a New York Stage and Film Company-produced play that will run through July 7 at the Powerhouse Theater at Vasser College. The play, which was written by Joanne Murray-Smith and directed by Max Mayer, is a psychological mystery about a stranger leading two desperate suburban parents through a re-examination of their daughter’s disappearance. Leslie Urdang produces. Schiff turned down several feature offers to do the play, but has two films in the can. He recently completed “I Am Sam”with Sean Penn and Michelle Pfeiffer and “People I Know” with Al Pacino.

NEW WRINKLE TO BUDDY FORMULA Touchstone Pictures is ready to give the buddy action movie a twist. The studio has ponied up for the pitch “Boys Town,” a film to be written by Jordan Budde and Robert Ellsworth and to be produced by Lauren Lloyd. The pitch tells the story of a macho DEA agent investigating the murder of his estranged gay brother The cop’s paired with a gay activist who’s the liaison between the cops and the gay community. Lloyd, a former exec at Disney before moving to Columbia and then becoming a producer, now has two projects at her former studio. The other is “The Mystic,” a drama about a sheriff trying to solve a crime in the foothills of Appalachia. Kevin Yorn made the deals for Lloyd and the writers.

ROCKER NOT FORGOTTEN German filmmakers Peter Thorwarth and Ali Eckert used a passion for punk pioneers the Ramones to fuel “Too Tough to Die,” a murder mystery they wrote and want to co-direct that manages to work the shaggy-haired rockers into the storyline. The filmmakers got the estranged members to agree to reunite for the film, singing a song the band wrote just for the movie. That plan went awry when leader Joey Ramone died in April at the age of 49 from cancer. Unbowed, the filmmakers are pressing forward, working with German companies Red Beat Pictures and Indigo Filmproduktion and L.A.-based Capture Film to shoot the film in the fall, using the song and trying to find the right artist to perform it onstage. “We approached the band two years ago and they liked the script enough to reunite… and by the time we got the final draft to them last fall, they’d started writing new songs,” said Eckert. “They would have gotten back onstage for our shoot, but…” Eckert said the film tells the story of the band, whose sound reverberated to Germany. “They were the influence for a lot of bands that became huge.”

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