Fox TV's 'Prison' makes way for 'Murder'

Does television have too much Brett Ratner or not enough?

Maybe it’s both.

“I think he does spread himself too thin,” says Dana Walden, co-president of 20th Century Fox TV, the studio behind Ratner’s main forays into television, “Prison Break” and now “Women’s Murder Club” (scheduled to premiere on ABC in September). “And I can tell you as one of the people who has been involved in his television business for the past four years, that is sometimes frustrating.

“But the guy is just infectious. His personality, his charm, his charisma, you just kind of make accommodations for Brett’s schedule. And even when I’m very upset with him, I spend five minutes on the phone with him, and all is forgotten, and I’m just looking forward to the next time we can work together.”

In fact, Fox recently extended its deal with Ratner through 2009. His latest TV project in development is “Blue Blood,” based on the book by Edwin Conlon about a Harvard-educated rookie cop in New York.

In his producing duties, Ratner focuses on launching a show, typically making key style and casting decisions — and, in the case of “Prison Break,” directing its memorable pilot. He is then content to have the showrunners carry the series forward.

“I get the dailies, the scripts, but they’re doing great, so they don’t really need

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my help,” Ratner says. “I (like) the fact that I get to create a kind of experience, a look, through the casting, the design of the show, and have it continue.”

Says Walden: “He calls with his ideas and his thoughts throughout the season, but his value to (“Prison Break”) was unquestionably launching that pilot, directing that pilot, getting it off the ground. The look was beautiful — you thought you were watching a feature film — yet it had all the touchstones of great television.”

Ratner has also ventured into the documentary world with “Helmut by June,” an hourlong work on photographer Helmut Newton directed by his widow, which Ratner stepped in to executive produce — “more work than anything I’ve ever done,” he says — for HBO Documentary Films.

In addition, Ratner had a reality project featuring aspiring directors, but when Steven Spielberg and Mark Burnett got the jump with a similar project, “On the Lot,” Ratner stepped back. Down the road the idea could be revisited, however, because Walden and Ratner feel his take on the concept is sufficiently distinct.

“Becoming a director is not just telling the story (because) there are other obstacles that get in your way, like a difficult actor,” Ratner says. “Like I would get Charlie Sheen to be in all the kids’ films, and I would tell him, ‘Whatever you do, don’t come out of your trailer.’ You still have to make the film, so what do you do?”

Perhaps the one area left for Ratner to conquer is TV comedy — which would make sense, since his favorite show as a child was “Saturday Night Live.” Ratner keeps his eye out for potential projects in that field but still talks about the one that got away: “Entourage.”

Doug Ellin pitched the future HBO hit to Ratner’s Rat Television shingle but didn’t make it up to the King Rat. Ratner only found out when he made a guest appearance on the show, playing himself.

“Doug said to me, ‘You know, we pitched “Entourage” to you,’ ” Ratner recalls. “I’m like, ‘What?’ “

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