DreamWorks prexy joining scribe tribe

McDermott to open pen

DreamWorks Television prexy Dan McDermott is leaving the company he helped start to pursue a new career as a screenwriter.

McDermott — who’s run the day-to-day operations of the indie studio’s small-screen arm since it opened for business in 1995 — will ankle by Thanksgiving. He’ll likely be replaced by his top lieutenants, Darryl Frank and Justin Falvey, though no final deal has yet been inked.

Move comes less than a month after McDermott sold a spec script to Fox 2000 for the supernatural thriller “Selling Time” (Daily Variety, Oct. 9). Exec and longtime girlfriend Maria Bello (“ER”) also recently set up a half-hour comedy project at ABC (Daily Variety, Aug 24).

McDermott said his departure from DreamWorks comes with a mix of “great sadness and excitement.”

“I love DreamWorks,” he said. “It’s been an amazing experience, and I feel like I’ve been a part of something genuinely fantastic, from the ground up.”

Nonetheless, McDermott said he’s long wanted to take a stab a being a scribe. “It was always my intention to be a writer,” he said.

Indeed, McDermott is a graduate of the American Film Institute, where he was a fellow in the screenwriting program. Soon after college, however, McDermott landed a gig at Wilshire Court Prods., supervising development and production of telepics for cabler USA Network.

By 1991, after a year at Fox Broadcasting Co., McDermott had become a VP of current programming for the web, where he would spend five years.

Firmly planted on the exec track, “I put my dream aside,” McDermott said. “Now it’s become an itch I have to scratch.”

McDermott approached boss Jeffrey Katzenberg several months ago about the idea of ankling for the feature world.

Right ‘Time’

“The only question was when was I going to make the leap, and under what circumstances,” he said, adding that he devoted “a lot of middle of the night energy” to “Selling Time” and the ABC pilot while continuing to fulfill his responsibilities at DreamWorks.

Katzenberg and the other DreamWorks execs have been “extremely supportive” of McDermott’s desire to move on, McDermott said. With most of the studio’s fall 2002 scripts set up — but with production of new projects yet to begin — now seemed the appropriate time to ankle, McDermott said.

“I’m incredibly proud of everything we’ve done here– both the shows and the spirit of the company,” he said. “If we’ve proven anything, it’s that if you manage your costs and are responsible, then you have an opportunity to be a successful, long-term player.”

Taken for a ‘Spin’

In addition to its biggest hit, “Spin City,” DreamWorks currently produces the critically hailed Judd Apatow laffer “Undeclared,” which was just given a full-season order by Fox; Denis Leary starrer “The Job” for ABC; and the WB comedy “Off Centre” (a co-production with Warner Bros. TV).

DreamWorks is also producing the 20-hour Sci Fi channel miniseries “Taken.”

During McDermott’s six-year run at DreamWorks TV, the studio produced one monster hit (“Spin”), several critical darlings (“Freaks and Geeks,” “It’s Like, You Know…”) — and the usual assortment of duds (“Arsenio,” “Ink”).

Some other indie studios — Columbia TriStar TV, ATG — have failed to survive the increasingly vertically integrated TV biz, but McDermott said he had no doubts about the future of the studio he helped launch.

“DreamWorks is going to be a long-term player,” he said. “We’re not pulling back.”

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