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ABC sports Brit 'Wives'

ABC is looking to import Blighty phenom “Footballers’ Wives” to the States.

Touchstone Television-based producers Chris Brancato and Bert Salke are partnering with comedy scribe-producer Marco Pennette (“Ugly Betty,” “Crumbs”) to adapt the Shed Prods. format as an hourlong sudser. U.S. skein will take place in the world of pro football rather than soccer but will otherwise retain much of the over-the-top spirit of the original.

Separately, Shed has set up another of its high-concept U.K. skeins — women-in-prison sudser “Bad Girls” — at FX, tapping William Schmidt (“Carnivale”) to write a pilot adaptation script.

Pennette will write and exec produce “Wives,” with Brancato and Salke also exec producing along with Shed’s Eileen Gallagher, Ann McManus and Maureen Chadwicke. ABC is developing a pilot script.

A campy mix of “Dallas” and “Desperate Housewives” that launched on ITV in 2002, “Wives” focuses on three ordinary women whose lives are transformed by the celebrity and fortune that come with marriage to soccer superstars.

Skein was a monster hit during its four-year Blighty run and has emerged as something of a signature skein for BBC America, which will bow the fifth and final season of the show next year.

“Bert was a religious fan of the show on BBC America, and I quickly got up to speed on it,” Brancato told Daily Variety. “From moment one, we understood that at the core of the show, it’s aspirational. It’s about what happens when, overnight, regular people get the American dream.”

Salke said the show will try to tap into the nation’s current cultural obsession with disposable celebs and overnight sensations created by the blogosphere and viral videos.

“The zeitgeist, as I sit here now surfing Perez Hilton and, is that we’re in that post-Warholian era where everyone can be a celebrity,” he said. “You have Matt Leinart reportedly dating Paris Hilton. The worlds have collided.”

Brancato and Salke said landing Pennette was key, given his past experience blending comedy and drama on shows such as “Betty” and “Inconceivable.” Pennette has an overall deal at Touchstone and is a co-exec producer on “Betty.”

Current plans call for the U.S. take to start out with the same three core couples seen in season one of “Wives,” which means the devious Tanya and the tragic Chardonnay will make the jump across the pond.

“What we’ve been working on is taking the characters and giving them an American spin,” Brancato said, adding that many of the original storylines will be used in the U.S. version. Blighty skein was known for jaw-dropping plots about hermaphrodite babies and death by intercourse.

Gallagher said the U.S. sale of “Wives” — packaged by UTA, which reps Shed, Brancato/Salke and Pennette — is another sign of how the U.S. market has changed in recent years.

“The success of ‘The Office’ and ABC’s serialized shows has really opened up the area of relationship dramas about big characters and big stories, as opposed to just procedurals,” she said.

Gallagher, who’s also CEO of Shed, said the key to the success of “Wives” was that the show wasn’t really about sports.

“It’s as much about football as ‘Dallas’ was about oil,” she said. “It’s about ultimate celebrity, about too much, too young … and women who are stuck with each other.”

Brancato/Salke Prods. developed three pilots last season, including the Chuck Pratt-penned “Secrets of a Small Town.” That project remains in contention for midseason.

Company also is developing several other projects that it will begin pitching to Touchstone in the coming weeks.

Shed already has built up a sizable U.S. presence via its acquisition of Ricochet, the Blighty producer behind ABC’s “Supernanny.” Shed also has a first-look deal to develop projects for Fox Broadcasting (Daily Variety, July 21).

“Bad Girls,” set up at FX, is already getting exposure via airings on BBC America.

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