Heel & Toe marching to Studios USA

Pair joins other high-profile signings as roster expands

Scribe-producer Paul Attanasio (“Quiz Show,” “Homicide: Life on the Street”) and production partner Katie Jacobs (“A Cool Dry Place”) are bringing their Heel and Toe Films production banner to Studios USA as part of a three-year, seven-figure overall deal.

Pact is another sign of Studios USA’s decision to significantly beef up its roster of scribes and talent under new programming topper Sarah Timberman.

Notable signings in recent months include Neal Baer (“Law & Order: Special Victims Unit,” “ER”); Joshua Sternin & Jeffrey Ventimilia (“That ’70s Show”); Steve Koren (“Seinfeld”); Cheryl Holliday (“King of the Hill”); and Gabe Sachs & Jeff Judah (“Just Shoot Me”).

Under terms of the Heel and Toe deal, which took several months to hammer out, Attanasio will create, develop and produce series for Studios USA (Daily Variety, July 24). In addition, he and Jacobs, who are both repped by CAA, will soon hire a development chief to expand Heel and Toe’s efforts beyond projects penned by Attanasio.

Talent magnet

“Paul and Katie as a company serve as a magnet to virtually any actor or director interested in doing television who wouldn’t normally do television,” Timberman said. “I already have a long list of phone calls from people who want to work with them.”

Attanasio cited Steven Bochco as an example of how a writer can leverage his own talent and power in order to launch shows from other scribes.

“What’s great about TV is that it really is about a writer’s voice,” he said. “I would love to find some new voices and try to shepherd along some of that talent. Bochco did so many things better than anyone else, but he really did one thing better than anyone: giving people freedom to spread their wings.”

Praise aplenty

The main component of the Studios USA deal, of course, is Attanasio’s services as a series creator — and Timberman spared no adjectives in her praise of his abilities on that count.

“Even where Paul has worked from underlying source material, I don’t think there’s anything derivative about what he’s done,” she said. “His reputation is based on substance. He’s not the flavor of the day; he’s someone who’s proven himself to be one of the finest pure writers working in film or television.”

In addition, “Katie brings tremendous producing knowledge and experience to their partnership, a combination that has made them one of the most formidable creative teams in television,” Timberman added.

‘Gideon’s’ trumpet

Most recently, Attanasio created and exec produced the critically admired if short-lived ABC drama “Gideon’s Crossing.” He snagged an Oscar nom for “Quiz Show” and another for “Donnie Brasco.”

The fact that “Gideon’s” didn’t make it past its first season has Attanasio and Jacobs hungry to create another series.

“We really want to try to do it again, to get a show that can stay on the air and become part of people’s lives the way a television show does,” he said. “We want to try to learn from our mistakes and try and build on the things we did right that last time while also putting in that last piece of the puzzle, which is a bigger audience.”

Attanasio believes Timberman and her boss, Studios USA Television topper David Kissinger, are the right team to make that happen.

“It’s really gotten very hard to launch a quality show,” he said. “You need allies when the going gets tough, and these guys are really committed to quality television. It’s a place where, from the top down, there’s a belief that you can do quality TV and still get a great audience.”

While acknowledging Studios USA’s surge of signings, Timberman said the company wasn’t trying to get into the volume biz.

“We are not looking so much to increase our level of output as we are trying to diversify our programming,” she said. “We have an extremely stong foothold in procedural franchise dramas, but we’re also looking to broaden the studio’s sensibility.”

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