Exec taps Rodrigue for laffs, longform

The Wolf pack is expanding: Veteran producer-exec Nena Rodrigue has been tapped head of development for “Law & Order” maven Dick Wolf’s Universal-based shingle.

Hiring signals Wolf’s attention to, as he puts it, “move aggressively into comedy and longform” development. And while the expansion plan has been in the works for some time, the pending merger of U and NBC makes Rodrigue’s arrival even more timely.

“This is the first vertical integration that could actually work,” Wolf said of the NBC-U deal. “You’re looking at a company with seven or eight platforms from which to do television. It’d be kind of foolhardy not to… capitalize on (the merger) in a way that expands the company logically.”

As part of the shuffle, Peter Jankowski has also reupped as Wolf Films’ president and chief operating officer, while Esrin Gozukizil has joined the company as director of programming, under Rodrigue.

“This is our biggest reorganization in the company’s 15 years,” Wolf said. “We are putting out 104 hours of programming (this season), and there were just two executives here. There are days where there are problems or something needs to be done on all the shows, and there’s no way the two of us can handle this and keep an eye on development.”

Wolf said his agents at UTA brought Rodrigue to his attention.

“She’s very skilled at working with writers, and she has a strong eye for writing talent and creative talent,” he said. “One of Nena’s main goals is to find the best writers in the business and bring them into the company.”

Rodrigue already has two comedy projects in development at Wolf. But while laffers are now a priority for the production company, Wolf said he’s not planning to turn his shingle into a Carsey-Werner-Mandabach-style laugh factory.

Instead, Wolf wants to pursue laffers that make sense within the “L&O” urban/gritty wheelhouse — such as a police laffer.

“If we had produced (a comedy like ABC’s) ‘The Job,’ I don’t think anyone would have said anything about that,” Wolf said.

A fourth “Law & Order” edition for NBC is also expected to be a part of the company’s 2004 development –although no deal is in place yet.

‘Mystery wheel’ revival

As for longform, Wolf Films is no stranger to the genre, having produced the “Law & Order” TV movie “Exiled” a few years ago. Wolf hinted he’s also interested in resurrecting the “mystery wheel” mini-movies that were popular in the 1960s and ’70s.

“We’re talking about different variations on longform, and looking at the value of longform now that we’re about to join a company with multiple platforms,” he said. “We may now have an opportunity for more windows, which may make the economics for longform more attractive again.”

Jankowski has been with Wolf Films since 1996 and serves as an exec producer on all of the company’s current series, including the three “Law & Order” skeins, ABC’s “L.A. Dragnet” and NBC reality skein “Crime & Punishment.”

“There’s an obvious expansion of his duties because we have more shows on the air,” Wolf said. “He has a trainload of responsibilities.”

Touchstone deal

Rodrigue has been a producer for the past few years, working under a deal at Touchstone. Last season, she produced ABC/Touchstone drama pilot “The Partners” and a half-hour with scribes Jay Scherick and David Ronn.

She previously served as senior VP of development for Imagine Television since 1997. Prior to that, she was a development exec at Witt-Thomas Prods. and an exec in Fox’s alternative division, working on series such as “The Ben Stiller Show.”

Gozukikil joins Wolf Films from UPN, where he was an assistant to the net’s drama development senior VP. His resume also includes stints at Universal TV and Columbia TriStar TV.

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