ABC smitten by Simpson for sitcom

Music celeb to play character based on herself

Singer and ditsy MTV reality star Jessica Simpson has partnered with producer Ted Harbert to develop a sitcom at ABC.

Harbert will exec produce the half-hour project, along with the singer’s father and manager, Joe Simpson. The producers are mulling a concept in which Simpson will play a character loosely based on herself, a pop star whose squeaky-clean image has made her an American sweetheart.

Project is also set up at 20th Century Fox TV, where Harbert has an overall pod deal.

Simpson recently released her third album, “In This Skin,” but has become even more of a household name thanks to her MTV series with hubby Nick Lachey. “Newlyweds: Nick and Jessica” has become the music cabler’s latest breakout hit, scoring the top spot among all cable original series in October.

The reality show, which follows the couple’s lives as they cope with being young and married with separate pop star careers, has played out as a comedy — particularly taking advantage of Simpson’s daffy blonde persona.

“Jessica is it right now,” Harbert said. “The way audiences and fans are reacting to her right now, there’s more here than just a funny MTV show or a woman with a great 5½ octave vocal range.”

Simpson, this week’s Rolling Stone cover girl, also has made a name for herself by sticking with a good-girl image. Stories about the singer are almost obligated to mention her decision to remain a virgin before marriage.

Harbert believes that Simpson’s wholesomeness — which nonetheless includes a dose of sexiness — appeals to a broader audience.

“There are other, popular singers who have gone into a more adult, sexier image, but Jessica has stayed away from it,” he said. “When you can find someone that both kids, teens and parents want to watch together, that’s good news.”

ABC Entertainment prexy Susan Lyne said the network was attracted to Simpson’s “infectious energy and unmistakable star quality.”

“She also has a built-in fan base in both music and television, which is a great jumping-off point for us,” Lyne said. “We’re looking forward to developing the ideal showcase for her considerable talents.”

Simpson joins a growing legion of pop stars who have opted to dabble in sitcoms while maintaining their music career — most notably, Brandy (“Moesha”), LL Cool J (“In the House”) and Eve, who stars in her own self-titled UPN laffer this season.

What’s unusual is Simpson already has a successful TV career; she’s currently shooting the second season of “Newlyweds.” (Which may, in a twist, wind up shooting the behind-the-scenes development of her ABC show.) She’s also looking to launch a feature career.

“This deal is a great and logical next step for Jessica and the evolution of her career,” Joe Simpson said. “We’re very happy to consider ABC part of our professional family.”

Harbert said the CAA-packaged project will also have to be cognizant of the fact that viewers already know Simpson’s persona well through the MTV show and may not accept her as a fictional character — which is why the producers are mulling a concept in which she plays a version of herself.

“We can take advantage of the realization that she is beamed into millions of homes every week,” Harbert said. “That’s part of her appeal, people feel they really know her.”

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