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Alphabet ponies up 7 figures for August put pilot

ABC’s drama development is headed north: The net has made a seven-figure put pilot commitment to an Alaska-set cop drama from feature scribe John August (“Charlie’s Angels.”)

Alphabet and sibling studio Touchstone Television won the rights to the tentatively titled “The Circle,” despite strong initial interest in the project from other outlets. August will write and exec produce the pilot, which is being targeted for fall 2003.

Deal includes substantial six-figure penalties if ABC decides against making the pilot or if the net chooses not to turn the pilot into a series.

“I’m really excited about this because I think John’s one of the most talented, diverse writers working today,” said Touchstone topper Steve McPherson. “He was able to do ‘Go’ and then ‘Charlie’s Angels.’ That shows he has an incredibly broad reach in terms of scope of characters and storytelling. He’s just very special.”

Quick move

ABC Entertainment prexy Susan Lyne credited McPherson’s team and ABC’s drama development execs for moving so quickly to line up August’s project.

“They had been chasing John August forever, calling up his agents and saying, ‘Is there any chance he’d do TV (again)?’ ” Lyne said. “So when they heard he had this project they went after it hard and fast, and we bought it in the room.”

Lyne said she “loved the first half of ‘Insomnia,’ ” the Al Pacino feature about an Alaskan murder mystery that was released earlier this year. She believes “The Circle” could capture some of the spirit of that pic.

“I would love to see that world explored in television,” Lyne said.

August said “The Circle” will explore a very basic theme: murder in Alaska.

“Specifically, (it’s about) the troopers, criminologists and prosecutors who have to uphold the law at the edge of the world,” he said.

August said he’s intrigued by the visual and story options opened up by setting a show in such a remote locale.

“Alaska has 500,000 people — that’s the population of Long Beach — but spread over an area the size of California, Texas and Montana combined,” he said. “It’s both giant and tiny.”

Hicks nixed

And while Alaska’s size and remote nature have led to a unique, territorial brand of law enforcement, the Colorado-born August said he’s not planning to make a show “about characters shooting cans off fence posts.”

“Growing up in a ‘flyover’ state, I get frustrated when I see rural law enforcement portrayed on television as bumbling hicks,” the scribe said. 

“The reality is that these are professionals working under very difficult circumstances, often without the resources an urban team would have.”

In addition to “Go” and “Charlie’s Angels,” August also wrote the upcoming “Charlie’s Angels 2.” On the TV side, he exec produced, with Dick Wolf, the short-lived WB Network drama “D.C.”

“The Circle” joins an increasingly long list of would-be skeins set outside the continental United States.

About the same time ABC was wrapping up a deal for August’s project, NBC picked up a drama script from feature scribe Jim Kouf (“Snow Dogs”). And ABC, CBS and Fox are all developing dramas based in Hawaii.

Deal was brokered by UTA and Ken Richman.

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