Alphabet slick for ‘Grease’

Telepic to explore characters' evolution after Rydell High

“Grease” is the word at ABC.

Alphabet has reached a deal with Paramount Network Television to produce a musical telepic updating Par’s hugely successful 1978 feature franchise. Project is expected to air sometime in 2002, though an exact timetable isn’t in place.

Stan Zimmerman and Jim Berg (“Annie”) will write the script for the still untitled pic, which will take place in 1979 — 20 years after the original movie.

Didi Conn, who played beauty school dropout Frenchy in the big screen “Grease” and its sequel, is spearheading the TV project and will serve as exec producer. Dave Mace of Storyline Entertainment will serve as a producer.

Project is being developed by telepic toppers Susan Lyne and Quinn Taylor for ABC and Marshall Coben at Par.

Script is still in the early stages, but Conn said the movie will explore how the characters in the first “Grease” have evolved 20 years after graduating from Rydell High. Their respective kids will also play a major part in the pic.

“Jim Jacobs, the author of the original ‘Grease’ musical, said it was about firsts — first car, first kiss, first time getting pregnant — and the energy that accompanies firsts,” Conn said. “That’s the ‘Grease’ spirit, and that’s what we’re exploring 20 years later.”

The fictional offspring of the original “Grease”-ers will play a key role in the new pic, Conn said.

“Because it takes place in 1979, we’ll get to see the kids go through the late ’70s version of our wild and horny days,” she said. “We learn about (the original characters) through the kids.”

Though Conn is a lock to reprise her role as Frenchy, casting won’t get under way until a script is ready. Producers plan to extend offers to all original cast members. If an actor declines to take part, the role is not expected to be recast.

As for the new parts, Conn hopes to cast only thesps who’ve appeared in some version of “Grease,” be it stage or screen. “That opens us up to half of Hollywood,” she quipped.

The new “Grease” has been in development for three years, with Conn inspired to resurrect the movie following the success of the 1998 20th anniversary re-release of the pic and a Conn-penned “Grease” scrapbook.

Conn’s book helped benefit autistic children. Thesp hopes the pic will have a similarly philanthropic bent, though details are still being hammered out.

“This movie is going to attract so much attention, it would be so wonderful to give something back,” she said.

In addition to its successful original run, “Grease” — which began as a Broadway musical — spawned a hit soundtrack, a 1982 sequel (starring Michelle Pfeiffer) and a Broadway revival. Its 1998 re-release grossed nearly $13 million during its first weekend, at the time making it the biggest open for a non- “Star Wars” re-release.

Original pic starred John Travolta, Olivia Newton-John, Stockard Channing, Jeff Conaway, Michael Tucci, Dinah Manoff and Conn.

Eve Arden, Edd Byrnes, Sid Caesar, Frankie Avalon and Alice Ghostley also appeared in the feature.

Zimmerman and Berg’s deals were brokered by their reps at Endeavor and ICM.

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