Song-and-dance team tune TV

Producing duo preps musical telepics, series for nets

With “Chicago” officially in the books as Miramax’s highest-grossing pic ever, producers Craig Zadan and Neil Meron are tuning up a pair of musical-themed projects for the small screen.

Fox has pacted with the Storyline Entertainment duo, scribe Lizzie Weiss (“Blue Crush”) and Touchstone Television to develop a weekly song- and dance-filled drama project called “The Rise.”

In addition, ABC has snapped up the rights to the Broadway tuner “1776,” with Zadan and Meron — the team behind ABC’s hit musicals “Annie,” “Cinderella” and “Gypsy”– attached to produce a musical telepic adaptation of the show for “The Wonderful World of Disney.”

New projects come as Storyline continues work on several other previously announced musical telepics for ABC, as well as a half-hour comedy.

On the ‘Rise’

Zadan, Meron and Weiss will exec produce “The Rise,” an hourlong drama that will revolve around the ups and downs of showbiz as seen through the eyes of a group of aspiring young singers and dancers living together in a Los Angeles house. Weiss, who created the skein, will write the pilot for the project, which has been given a premium script order from Fox.

With Fox’s “American Idol” proving there’s an aud for music on TV — and bringing a slew of femme eyeballs to the net — Fox Entertainment prexy Gail Berman said she approached Zadan and Meron and asked them to develop a musical project for her.

“Neil and Craig are the pre-eminent guys dealing in the musical form right now,” Berman told Daily Variety. “It’s something we’ve been interested in for a long time, but we haven’t been able to crack the genre yet. So who better to try than Neil and Craig.”

Indeed, Fox last season developed a small screen take on Par’s hit feature “Save the Last Dance,” but the project didn’t make it past the pilot stage. Berman said the influx of “female eyeballs” to Fox in the past year makes a music/dance-based skein even more of a priority.

“We have many more platforms with which we could launch this kind of show,” she said.

Zadan and Meron, working with the development team at Touchstone, then brought in UTA-repped Weiss to create a framework for “The Rise.”

Wannabes train

She came up with the idea of setting the show in a midcity Los Angeles mansion — dubbed “The Farm” –where a group of wannabe hoofers, crooners and thesps train to become stars.

“The show’s all about showing these people facing the climb up the ladder, hence ‘The Rise,’ ” Meron said.

As with “Chicago,” Zadan said the goal with “The Rise” is to use music in non-traditional ways.

“We’re looking for ways to do a dramatic series that uses music and dance in a new way, a very, sexy way,” he said. “We haven’t seen that in television.”

‘1776’ returns

As for “1776,” WMA-repped Zadan and Meron have just starting mapping out a strategy to bring the 1969 musical (and 1972 feature film) to the small screen. Tuner tells the story of the days leading up to the July 4 signing of the Declaration of Independence.

“It’s one of the most perfectly written musicals of all time that wasn’t as well served on film as it could have been,” Meron said. “We want to bring it back in a powerful way, and TV is the perfect medium.”

Soon after closing the rights deal for “1776,” Zadan and Meron had lunch with Tony-winning scribe Peter Stone, who wrote the book for “1776.” Stone died Saturday at the age of 73.

“We now just have this fervor about doing this really well and dedicating it to his memory,” Meron said, noting Storyline first became interesting in reviving “1776” in the wake of the Sept. 11 terror attacks.

“We all felt that ‘1776’ touched even more of a chord than usual,” Zadan said. In other Storyline development news:

  • “The Hunchback of Notre Dame” is moving closer to air.

    Following a staged reading of the script last month in Gotham for ABC execs, Storyline is prepping a budget and production timetable for its previously announced telepic based on the the hit Disney feature.

    “We tested the piece on stage to see what would work, and refine it, and it was very successful,” Zadan said.

  • With the war in Iraq now largely over, Zadan and Meron said they’re once again looking to put their new take on “Fiddler on the Roof” back on track. International situation contributed to a decision to delay production of the “WWOD” telepic.

  • Lensing on the Touchstone/Storyline laffer pilot from scribes/exec producers Ann Flett-Giordano and Chuck Ranberg is this week. If picked up to series, skein would be Storyline’s first half-hour project.
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