Burnett conjures rights to book series

Mark Burnett is embarking on a new film adventure, snatching up the feature rights to the children’s fantasy book series “The Secrets of the Immortal Nicholas Flamel.”

First volume in author Michael Scott’s six-part series, dubbed “The Alchemyst,” will be published by Random House Children’s Books in May. The “Survivor” guru plans to begin talking with potential studios in the next few weeks about coming aboard to produce.

Burnett, who’s read “The Alchemyst” as well as the first chapter in the series’ second volume, said Scott’s books “have the scope of ‘The Lord of the Rings’ and the charm and intrigue of ‘Harry Potter.’ “

“It takes one of these fantasy ideas and puts it in today’s world,” he told Daily Variety. “It’s very accessible.”

The Flamel character — possibly a real 15th century French alchemist –carries a bit of name recognition in the fantasy book-reading crowd. Most recently, J.K. Rowling has mentioned him in her “Harry Potter” books, making Flamel a friend of Albus Dumbledore.

Scott’s take on Flamel brings the immortal character into the 21st century, where he’s a 600-year-old man (who looks to be 50) living in San Francisco. Books focus on Sophie and Josh Newman, a pair of teenage fraternal twins who find themselves caught up in an age-old battle between good and evil.

Early books have the twins racing across America, learning the ancient ways of magic even as they’re hunted by creatures and beings from the mythologies of a dozen nations. Flamel serves as their teacher and guide.

Random House has been pushing the international appeal of the series, selling the book rights to publishers in 11 countries nearly a year before it’s released.

An adaptation of publisher’s “Eragon” series of books hits the bigscreen later this year via Fox, while New Line is set to unveil its adaptation of “The Golden Compass” late next year.

Random House has a deal with Focus Features to acquire properties for development, but Burnett’s project isn’t a part of that deal, allowing the producer to set up the film at any studio.

Burnett said he quickly went after film rights to the Flamel franchise after a staffer got a hold of an early draft of the book. He then met with Scott about the rights and said that g.f. Roma Downey may have been a secret weapon in snatching away the franchise from other bidders.

“He had a lot of friends in common with Roma, and the Irish connection didn’t hurt,” Burnett said. “He felt like I would treat this story correctly.”

Burnett said he was particularly impressed by Scott’s ability to “weave in historical fact” throughout the fictional adventure.

While “Nicholas Flamel” is Burnett’s most high-profile foray into film, it’s not his first.

He optioned the rights to a pair of “Da Vinci Code”-like books form Lewis Perdue more than two years ago (Daily Variety, March 9, 2004).

Burnett also hinted he has other feature projects in the works but said he couldn’t discuss them yet.

Producer is in the middle of one of the busiest weeks of his career.

His CBS skein “Rock Star” wrapped its second season Wednesday, just as his new AOL reality contest “Gold Rush” kicked off on the Web. Meanwhile, the controversial race-based “Survivor: Cook Islands” debuts tonight, “Martha” starts its second season in syndication next week, and ESPN is readying for the season finale of the Burnett/DreamWorks TV-produced “The Contender 2″ later this month.

Burnett is also in pre-production for “On the Lot,” the film competish skein he’s producing for Fox with Steven Spielberg.

Latest “Survivor” has caused a media tempest, but Burnett seems calm amid the storm.

“I have to respect (the critics),” he said. “There are people dying every day overseas so that they’re allowed to say what they want.”

He said he hopes those who’ve been aghast at the concept of the new “Survivor” season will “be just as vocal in applauding” after a few episodes if, as he believes, the show reveals itself to be undivisive.

Burnett also indicated that the days of having “token minorities” on “Survivor” are over.

“I don’t see how we can go back to the old way,” he said. “We have to continue to have this kind of diversity.”

He also flatly rejected the notion that GM pulled out of “Survivor” because of the show’s theme this season. “It’s such a lie,” he said. “GM decided not to be in months before.”

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