Petersen to headline, exec produce cop drama

High Horse Films, the production shingle of “CSI” star and co-exec producer William Petersen, has pacted with TNT to develop an original movie based on the James Ellroy bestseller “Clandestine.”

Petersen is set to star and exec produce the noir drama, one of several projects on High Horse’s growing development slate. Cindy Chvatal, Petersen’s High Horse partner, is also set to exec produce.

Also in development at High Horse is the indie feature “Dogstar,” penned by David Klass (“Kiss the Girls,” “Desperate Measures”). Company is partnered with Moving Images to produce.

Petersen and Chvatal are also developing a superhero action comedy feature with scribe Steve DeKnight (“Buffy the Vampire Slayer”) that will serve as a potential starring vehicle for Petersen.

TNT mini and movies topper Michael Wright said High Horse is a company he’d been eyeing since his arrival at the net.

“We identified a number of people who make sense for TNT when I came aboard. Billy just has a weight to his work that I’ve been a fan of for a long time,” Wright said. “I’d read Ellroy’s ‘L.A. Confidential,’ and I think the combination of Billy and one of Ellroy’s signature urban crime dramas will do very well for us.”

Gritty cop drama

“Clandestine” centers on a 1950s-era Los Angeles-based officer (Petersen) on the rise. While on the trail of a serial killer, he finds himself in alliance with some bad cops, inevitably taking the fall for their misdeeds.

Project is in early development and no target airdate has been set.

“Billy was looking to do a gritty cop drama, and we’re both fans of Ellroy’s books,” Chvatal said. “His novels, however, are very hard to get optioned, so you can imagine how thrilled we are to be doing this. TNT was immediately interested, having done plenty of projects using the work of bestselling authors.”

Petersen and Chvatal co-exec produce CBS’s “CSI,” the primetime forensics drama in its fourth season. Duo last partnered with TNT in 1992 to produce telepic “Keep the Change,” in which Petersen also starred.

They also produced the Sissy Spacek starrer “Hard Promises” for Columbia Pictures with Col-based Stone Group Pictures.

Giving voice to skein

Eye’s exec VP of drama development Nina Tassler said the pair was instrumental in finding the voice and tone of “CSI,” which was originally developed as a starring vehicle for Petersen.

“Billy, Cindy and (exec producers) Jonathan Littman and Anthony E. Zuiker worked very intimately on the concept for the show,” she said. “In today’s climate, a show is really required to define itself early on, and I think Billy and Cindy brought a strong point of view to the show from the get-go. Billy’s got incredible development instincts. He comes to the process as a partner rather than just a hired actor.”

Although High Horse’s development projects reside in mainly feature and television arenas, Chvatal said she and Petersen got their start producing theater in Chicago.

“We used to do renegade theater with about $1.98 to produce, which actually gave us a leg up — we found that TV is not unlike theater: It’s all about collaboration, and you learn to work with the same group of people day after day.” Chvatal said. “Billy has an eye for material and, because of his background in theater, knows production inside out.”

Chvatal said the pair would focus on scripted ventures but have plans for reality programs as well.

Petersen’s feature credits include “Manhunter,” “To Live and Die in L.A.,” “The Contender,” “The Skulls” and “Kiss the Sky.”

Petersen, Chvatal and High Horse Films are represented by UTA.

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