Plenty of balls in the air for studio
The production company that gave the world Jack Bauer is getting ready to take on the FBI.
Brian Grazer’s 20th Century Fox TV-based Imagine Television — which just won a best drama Emmy for “24” — is working with the FBI to develop an hour-long drama focusing on the agency’s post-9/11 role within the government.
In addition, with the company’s “Arrested Development” now in TV heaven, Grazer and Imagine TV prexy/partner David Nevins are planning a big push into comedy this development season. They’re developing a half-hour with “George Lopez” exec producer Robert Borden, which has snagged a significant commitment from ABC.
Before plunging into development season, however, Grazer has more pressing matters on his plate — specifically, launching a pair of dramas opposite the likes of “ER” and “Dancing with the Stars.”
He’ll get the early word on one bet this morning, when Nielsen reports the debut numbers for last night’s CBS premiere of the James Woods starrer “Shark,” which was directed by Spike Lee.
Then, in a little more than a week, NBC rolls out “Friday Night Lights,” the TV adaptation of the Grazer-produced film.
While Grazer has had three shows on the broadcast skeds before, Imagine TV has rarely, if ever, had so many high-profile balls in the air at once.
“Shark,” for example, is taking over one of the best slots on TV, replacing “Without a Trace” in the 10 p.m. space behind “CSI.” Nevins calls it Imagine’s “most mainstream show” since “24,” which means that, in success, “Shark” promises to be the sort of syndie moneymaker companies like Imagine covet.
Of course, because the time period is so important to CBS, the pressure to deliver will be intense.
“I’m excited and nervous,” Grazer said. “I know we’ll never do as well as ‘CSI,’ so I have that as a set point in my mind. But Jimmy Woods has never done a TV series, and I’ve known him for 25 years. I don’t want to screw it up.”
“Friday Night Lights” is also key part of NBC’s rebuilding effort, with the Peacock counting on the skein to kick of Tuesday nights. It’s based on a film Grazer spent 14 years trying to make.
Then there’s “24.” Given the rough start to Fox’s season, net will be counting heavily on the Kiefer Sutherland starrer — along with “American Idol” — to put it back into the ratings race come January.
Imagine is also hoping for a second season of “Saved,” the EMT drama it produces for TNT.
Dana Walden, prexy of 20th Century Fox TV, said Imagine’s film brand — she describes it as “the pursuit of a creative vision, not just commercial success” — has translated well to TV.
“While Brian’s accomplished in the film world, his taste is not precious,” she told Daily Variety. “It can be very broad, and yet he also has a very strong sense of the quality that he wants associated with that company.”
Grazer said this year’s busy slate “is exactly what I hoped for” when he got into television back in the 1970s as producer of the Suzanne Somers telepic “Zuma Beach.” It was his first “produced by” credit.
“I started in television. I’m not a movie snob,” he said.
Since launching Imagine TV, Grazer has produced a number of critically-hailed skeins, including “Felicity,” “SportsNight” and “Arrested.” Latter skein won the Emmy for best comedy two years ago, while “24” has morphed into a lucrative hit for Imagine and 20th.
Nonetheless, Imagine has yet to score that big comedy play — the type of laffer than can reap crazy coin in syndication.
“I want to break in to comedy, but it’s just hard for half-hour comedies in general,” he said. “It’s a little frustrating because I spent the first 10 years of my movie career producing comedies. It’s just about finding the right thing.”
Borden project at ABC — which revolves around a group of temps and is set in the pharmaceutical biz — is one of several ideas in development for this season. Nevins thinks the marketplace remains fertile for laffers, despite the genre’s poor track record of late.
“Comedy’s messed up,” Nevins said. “We want to inject the comedy world with some of the unexpectedness that good dramas have right now. I plan to be more aggressive in taking some different shots in comedy.”
Imagine partner Ron Howard is always a potential comedy collaborator. He attaches himself to projects on a case-by-case basis, most recently serving as an exec producer on “Arrested.”
As for the FBI skein, Nevins said that while the project is still “in the nascent stages” — search is still on for a scribe — the company has “an understanding with the FBI” that will give Imagine the ability to use the FBI’s name in the title. Agency hasn’t allowed that since the 1965 Efrem Zimbalist, Jr. skein.
“We’re going to try to capture this organization at a time of real institutional change, as it goes from a strictly law enforcement, after-the-fact agency to being much more intelligence-based,” Nevins said. “The same way ‘Friday Night Lights’ captures west Texas, we want to capture the FBI.”
Imagine is also awaiting word from Fox Broadcasting on its space drama “Beyond,” from scribe David Self (“Thirteen Days”). Indications are good that the net will greenlight the pilot to series.