ABC's in 'Conversation'

Producer Tony Krantz (“24″) is teaming with scribes Christopher McQuarrie (“The Usual Suspects”) and Erik Jendresen (“Band of Brothers”) to turn Francis Ford Coppola’s “The Conversation” into a weekly series for ABC.

Coppola is aboard as an exec producer, Krantz said, with Alphabet sibling Touchstone Television close to a deal to serve as the project’s studio, along with Krantz’s Flame Ventures.

ABC has given “The Conversation” a put pilot commitment, with a rich penalty attached, two people familiar with the deal said.

Released in 1974, between Coppola’s first two “Godfather” pics, “The Conversation” is a sparse thriller featuring Gene Hackman as master of electronic surveillance Harry Caul.

McQuarrie and Jendresen plan to set the TV version in the present day, with Caul now equally adept at digital spying and traditional audio surveillance.

Skein will feature close-ended stories, with Caul reluctantly taking on cases in order to help people deserving of assistance. But there’ll also be an ongoing storyline since, as in the movie, Caul will be a man under constant observation by various government agencies due to a secret conversation he’s recorded.

“The absolute simplicity and elegance of the movie lends itself quite nicely to an ongoing series,” McQuarrie told Daily Variety. “The challenge for us was staying true to the original movie and yet evolving the work (Caul) was doing at the end of the movie” for a series.

One solution: Caul will work with a group of four other experts he’s assembled, none of whom ever know what the others are up to. And much as the movie reflected the Watergate era, the TV take will draw on the post-9/11 mood of the country.

“It’s relevant to our times,” Krantz said, with Jendresen noting the skein will examine themes of “paranoia and fear” as well as “the individual’s relationship with the establishment.”

Krantz has been trying to get “The Conversation” made into a series for more than a decade.

As an agent, he help set up a Ronald Bass-scripted take on the film in 1995. NBC shot a pilot but didn’t order the series.

Two other attempts by Krantz failed, but the current project came together surprisingly quickly, with Krantz initially talking to Jendresen about the idea as they worked together on “Sublime,” the Jendresen-penned pic that marks Krantz’s tyro turn as a helmer.

Jendresen and McQuarrie knew each other via teaching gigs at the Sundance Screenwriters Lab, and their initial conversation about “The Conversation” was brief.

“I called Chris and said, ‘ “The Conversation.” Television series,’ ” Jendresen recalled. “And he said, ‘Done.’ It was about that simple.”

Pitch process for the show also was abbreviated, with ABC Entertainment prexy Steve McPherson making a preemptive bid to snatch up the project — packaged by Endeavor and Paradigm — before other nets even heard the full idea.

“He felt it could be his real big procedural,” Krantz said.

Extent of Coppola’s involvement in the adaptation isn’t finalized. “The four of us are equal partners. We want him to do as much as he wants,” Krantz said.

McQuarrie and Jendresen will write the pilot, exec producing with Krantz and Coppola.

Krantz, former head of Imagine Television, was an original exec producer on “24” and also helped put together or produced “ER,” “Sports Night” and “Felicity.” Jendresen wrote three installments of “Band of Brothers,” winning an Emmy for his work on the HBO mini.

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