Dorothy's back as 'Oz' series lands at net

NEW YORK — The WB is on the yellow brick road.

The network has committed to a pilot for a fantasy series revolving around the land of Oz that was laid out in the 45 novel series originated by L. Frank Baum.

A failed attempt was made several years ago for a syndicated series on “Oz” hatched by helmer Tim Burton.

The series pilot will mark the TV debut of “X-Men” scribe David Hayter, who is about to turn in that pic’s sequel, and who is also writing the sequel to “Pitch Black.” Warner Bros. Television will produce.

The tone of the Oz series will be dark and will more closely replicate that of J.R.R. Tolkien’s “The Lord of the Rings” or C.S. Lewis’ “The Chronicles of Narnia,” with Dorothy and company treated as historic figures who inhabitated Oz more than 60 years ago.

Hayter is scripting the pilot and will exec produce the “Oz” project with Lawrence Bender (“Good Will Hunting”), Kevin Brown (“Roswell”) and Joel Smith, who secured the rights several years ago from the Baum Trust.

The new series will center on a 20ish woman who lands in Oz, is unable to escape and leads a revolt against Emerald City. Hayter is writing now, but the series is expected to be ready after the release of the first installment of AOL-owned New Line’s “Lord of the Rings.”

The WB is developing it as a timeslot companion to “7th Heaven.”

“I have reduced the more childlike aspects of the movie and created a series that inhabits a more visceral world,” said Hayter. “Not many people realize there were 45 books in the series, 16 of them written by L. Frank Baum, that go way beyond what was covered in the film. My goal is not to challenge the movie, but instead to create a world that acknowledges the film, but contemporizes Oz so that the movie seems a glamorized version of a very real, very dangerous place.”

Smith, who optioned the series from the Baum Trust in 1996, said that Burton got very close on a series that had been set at Columbia/TriStar before he was sidetracked by “Sleepy Hollow” and then “Planet of the Apes.” “Tim’s take was very visual, but David’s is more story driven because storytelling is his strength,” said Smith. “I think it belongs at Warner Bros., since the studio controls rights to the original film.”

The one casualty of the delay is that the participants have to change the title of the series, which they originally hoped to call “Oz.”

But that title has been taken by the Tom Fontana-created HBO prison drama. “I thought about calling it ‘Oz: Not the Homoerotic Show,’ because I was annoyed they took our title, but I guess we’ll have to call it ‘Tales of Oz,’ ” Smith said. Attorney Dave Feldman and WMA, which drove the package, rep Hayter; Smith is repped by Field-Cech-Murphy.

TOP TUBE SCRIBE: Kirk Ellis is fast becoming the go-to guy for smallscreen epics. In fast succession, he scripted the ABC mini “The Beach Boys,” adapted with Janet Roach this columnist’s book on “The Three Stooges” for an ABC telepic, then rewrote and co-produced “Me and My Shadow: The Judy Garland Story” and scripted “Anne Frank: The Whole Story,” ABC telepics up for 22 Emmy Awards. Now Ellis is working on two more: He’s scripting “Pontius Pilate” for ABC through Lions Gate TV and is working with Atlantis Alliance and Baltimore-Spring Creek on “The Battle,” also for ABC, about black troops at the Battle of the Bulge. The men, called the Fighting 99th, fought for an integrated military, but were sold out by the government. The survivors were summarily relocated to an obscure base in France, the men stripped of their previous rank and stuck with titles that were hardly commensurate with their war efforts.

“Pontius Pilate” will be a two-part miniseries that will attempt to put in political perspective the career of the man whose place in history was determined by his role in presiding over the trial and crucifixion of Jesus Christ. “It’s not that Pontius Pilate got a bad rap,” said Ellis, “but he was caught in the middle. This tale will be told from a Roman point of view, a historical and political perspective as opposed to the theological one we’ve seen in so many other movies.” Ellis is repped by WMA.

PRAISERY MERGE COMPLETED: Yesterday marked the completion of the merger between powerhouse praiseries PMK and Huvane Baum Halls, a marriage first revealed in this column. The new entity’s called PMK/HBH, with Pat Kingsley chairman, Leslee Dart prexy, and a managing director team of the HBH partners Stephen Huvane, Robin Baum and Simon Halls, and longtime PMKers Allen Eichhorn, Robert Garlock, Cindy Berger, Catherine Olim, Tracy Shaffer and Jennifer Allen. PMK partner Lois Smith has reduced her role but remains as a consultant through the year. The two entities, with a total of 64 staffers evenly divided between New York and L.A., will be under the same roof in both cities shortly.

Filed Under:

Follow @Variety on Twitter for breaking news, reviews and more