‘Wave’ duo pilot cable; Wang’s ‘Pretty’ deal

SCREENWRITER CHRIS BRANCATO and vet production executive Bert Salke, who bonded after completing a 66-episode run of the Sci Fi Channel series “First Wave,” have formed Brancato/Salke to create smallscreen drama franchises and alternative cable programming.

The duo got a thumbs up from Sci Fi for a fourth season of “First Wave,” and are prepping a June shoot for the F/X pilot “Dope,” an hourlong drama which follows a kilo of heroin as it intersects the lives of six people. Series will be placed with ATG.

Brancato is a veteran film and TV writer whose show credits include “X-Files,” “Beverly Hills 90210,” with screen credits that include “Hoodlum,” “Species II” and “The American,” a Chechnya hostage drama he’s scripting for Imagine and Warner Bros. Salke was a top film and TV exec at Lorimar and Fox who helped Brancato get “First Wave” a 66-episode commitment from Sci Fi.

“When it comes to drama, if you look at the network timeslots, Dick Wolf and John Wells own 9:00 and 10:00,” Brancato said. “The license fees are lower, but the cable networks are owned by huge corporations which realize the value of people who can deliver network quality edgy shows that cost south of $1 million an episode. We figure out how to do shows for less.”Since part of the “First Wave” tab is paid by foreign partner Pearson, it’s unclear whether that company will pony up for the fourth season. If it does, Brancato and Salke will turn the show over to another runner while concentrating on “Dope.” Brancato said he’s worked on the show concept for two years, but acknowledged the momentum boost from the success of “Traffic.”

Brancato and Salke wrote the story, Brancato the script, and “Dope” will skip the network pilot frenzy by shooting in June. Their UTA agents are packaging the series, and are seeking an overall affiliation for the duo to set their slate for TV and film.

On that bigscreen front, Brancato/Salke hatched the Tom Green-Jason Lee-starrer “Stealing Stanford,” produced by Imagine and Revolution, and are also looking to set up as Brancato’s directing debut “Laguna Niguel,” a drama he scripted based on the exploits of an out of town family which masterminded the largest bank heist in Southern California history in 1972.

PRETTY” DEAL FOR WANG: After long resisting a movie deal for his published works, author and humorist David Sedaris has optioned rights to his bestselling memoir “Me Talk Pretty One Day” to “Joy Luck Club” director Wayne Wang and producers Peter Newman and Greg Johnson, the team behind the upcoming Wang-directed Artisan film “The Center of the World.” Wang has already at work on a screenplay with co-writer Francey Grace. The book is Sedaris’s memoirs of growing up in an eccentric family in North Carolina, and his subsequent time living in New York and France. Sedaris’s writing includes a memorable Esquire article about his stint as a Santa’s elf at Macy’s, and he and his sister are responsible for the Comedy Central sitcom “Strangers With Candy,” and the sold out off-Broadway show “The Book of Liz.” The filmmakers hope Sedaris’s cult following of actors leads to a cast that will get the pic into production later this year.

CLUES POINT TO ABC DEAL: ABC is making a deal to exploit the Nancy Drew Mystery Series for movies and a possible series. The network is in the final throes of a WMA-brokered deal with Simon & Schuster, which reps the estate of creator Edward Stratemeyer. The effort, spearheaded by ABC movies and minis head Susan Lyne and the Drew mystery series publisher Nancy Pines at Pocket Books/Archway Paperbacks, holds benefits for both parties, and the idea is for ABC to produce one of the teen sleuth mysteries as a telepic which could either lead to periodic mysteries or a weekly series. There are close to 200 titles that cover all aspects of the female gumshoe, so there’s a wealth of crimesolving to choose from. Kevin Brown is attached to produce whichever manifestation ABC decides upon, and the deal compensation grows fatter for S&S with each book that is turned into a film or used for a series.

SINISE FOLLOWS WHITESELL: Gary Sinise is the latest thesp to follow his longtime agent Patrick Whitesell from CAA to Endeavor, where Whitesell became a partner. Sinise, who opens on Broadway this Sunday in the Steppenwolf Theater Co. production of “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest,” joins Ben Affleck, Jessica Alba, Drew Barrymore, Matt Damon, Hugh Jackman, Jerry O’Connell, Alan Rickman, Christian Bale and Jada Pinkett Smith, who’ve also followed Whitesell.

SPECTOR PIC OFF THE CHARTS: Oscar-winning “Almost Famous” scribe Cameron Crowe just finished a reteam with his “Jerry Maguire” star Tom Cruise in “Vanilla Sky,” but don’t dress just yet for their long-planned biopic of music producing legend Phil Spector. Cruise and partner Paula Wagner made a deal several years ago with Spector and ABKCO owner Allen Klein for the biopic and Crowe said recently he loves the script he’s written. Problem is, he hasn’t yet found a satisfactory way to complete the story. That was particularly frustrating while he and Cruise were between takes of “Vanilla Sky,” when Cruise had his head down, looking exactly like the famed music man. When Crowe called him Spector, the actor broke into a full impression that left Crowe hoping that the proper ending presents itself soon.

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