TV pilot, toon feature being developed

“The Boondocks” creator Aaron McGruder and partner Reggie Hudlin have signed with Sony to take the edgy comicstrip beyond the funny pages.

Sony will simultaneously develop TV and feature projects based on the strip, now seen in 350 newspapers nationwide. McGruder and Hudlin have been charged with writing a pilot script and hammering out an animated feature treatment.

“The Boondocks” revolves around two inner-city kids, Huey (a revolutionary in the spirit of his namesake, Huey P. Newton) and Riley (a wannabe gangsta), who move to the suburbs with their slightly-out-of-touch grandfather.

“It’s just so smart,” Sony Pictures TV programming prexy Russ Krasnoff said. “These characters absolutely have a point of view and opinion about what’s happening in our world. It’s a voice that’s not represented in TV today.”

And while “The Boondocks” tackles provocative subjects, Sony Pictures Entertainment vice chair Yair Landau said he believed the concept was universal: “What makes this strip particularly accessible is, at its core, you have a family that talks about the cultural and political events of the day.”

Given the natural cycle of development, a TV project will likely come first. Sony and the producers hope to shop the project to networks this development season, for launch during the 2004-05 season.

McGruder and Hudlin have been shopping for a TV and feature home for “The Boondocks” even before the comic debuted in April 1999. The duo finally settled on Sony after meeting with Krasnoff, Landau and Sony Pictures Animation exec VPs Sandra Rabins and Penney Finkelman Cox.

“I got a really good vibe from them,” McGruder said. “I got the sense they understood and respected the strip for what it was, and they were interested in making the best projects they could. ‘Boondocks’ is not your standard commercial fare, but they appreciated what it was about.”

McGruder and Hudlin have already mapped out the general idea for a “Boondocks” movie, but said it was too soon to elaborate. The TV and feature projects will expand the world of “The Boondocks,” introducing characters and settings that haven’t been seen in the comic.

The TV and film projects won’t be able to be as topical as the strip, which McGruder frequently draws just one week before publication. Whereas the strip will tweak current events like the war, George W. Bush and “American Idol,” the screen projects will be more character-driven.

Still, Sony execs say they’ll be careful to keep the strip’s voice intact. “We absolutely must stay true to what ‘The Boondocks’ represents and what is says,” Krasnoff said.

And Huey, the spiky-haired junior rebel at the heart of “The Boondocks,” might not approve, but Sony also expects to capitalize on the licensing opportunities of the property.

“We’re becoming partners with him on this thing — it is truly about how we’re going to take this property to the next level and explore all media merchandising opportunities,” Krasoff said. “I think there’s big business in this.”

McGruder and Hudlin, who are both repped by Writers & Artists, met four years ago. Hudlin, who wrote and exec produced the animated feature “Bebe’s Kids,” as well as directed features such as “House Party,” “Boomerang” and “Serving Sara,” quickly became a mentor and partner to the young cartoonist. Since then, the duo have collaborated on projects such as “The Broke Diaries” at Fox. McGruder and Hudlin are also working on the graphic novel “Birth of a Nation,” which Crown will release in 2004.

For McGruder, who grew up watching several of Hudlin’s films, the respect is mutual. “Reggie has done a fantastic job representing black people onscreen,” he said. “It was important for me to have somebody with experience in storytelling, moviemaking and animation. I knew virtually nothing about Hollywood when I first came into contact with him; he showed me the ropes.”

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