Imagine’s Brian Grazer has turned his fascination with the FBI into a TV show, landing a series commitment at Fox.
Net’s late-summer pickup of the project is another sign of the industry ramping up development and production as it girds for the possibility of a work stoppage next year.
Drama, to be written and exec produced by feature scribe Chap Taylor (“Changing Lanes”), reps the first series in more than 35 years to be shot with the full cooperation of the law enforcement agency, since the late ’60s/early ’70s skein “The F.B.I.”
“I like making movies about heroes,” said Grazer, pointing to Imagine projects such as “Backdraft” and “Apollo 13.” “Selfless people willing to protect the city, the state or the world is interesting to me.”
Imagine and 20th Century Fox TV, which also produce “24” and “Shark” together, are behind the project, also tentatively titled “The FBI.” Show will revolve around Michael Cavanaugh, an Iraq war vet who’s tapped to head up the Critical Incidents Response Group.
Unlike the stiff-shirt, emotionally uncomplicated FBI characters from the pre-Watergate era, Grazer said he was looking to depict the complexities of being an agent in the post-9/11 world.
“I try very hard to do those subjects in a non-corny way,” he said. “It’s about people who have nobility but are emotionally flawed.”
In this case, the dark, abrasive lead character is based on real-life former FBI agent John O’Neill, who warned the agency early on about the dangers of al-Qaida and quit in disgust when his proclamations were ignored.
Ironically, O’Neill began his new career as security director at the World Trade Center on Sept. 10, 2001 — and was killed when the towers collapsed the next day. Later, at his funeral, several women discovered that they had all been married to O’Neill.
“We’re talking about a guy who by any reasonable definition was a pretty flawed individual,” Taylor said. “But he was a hero who was right. To me, that’s a fascinating guy. The most interesting saints were people who were sinners at first. That’s the character we want to build a story around.”
Fox Entertainment prexy Kevin Reilly, who gave a pilot commitment earlier this week to another drama, said Grazer and Taylor’s idea contained “a level of detail and authenticity that I haven’t heard in an FBI pitch before.”
“I’ve gotten to know Brian over the years and he has these curious obsessions,” Reilly said. “I’ve learned to follow those obsessions. In a post-9/11 world, it’s a very different FBI. They’ve gotten access and gotten the real deal, the actual use of the FBI. And its lead is very much a Fox-like character.”
Project got moving when former “20/20” anchor John Miller, who now serves as assistant director of public affairs at the FBI, contacted William Morris and told the talent agency he wanted to fuel an FBI-related TV show. At the same time, Imagine had been mulling over an FBI show thanks to Grazer’s fascination with the crimefighting org.
“The FBI” reps the first TV project for Taylor, who was interested in the complexities of the agency’s changing role in trying to neutralize criminal threats rather than going after people once they’ve committed their crimes.
“We have a lifetime’s worth of scary, cool, frightening, funny stories of their cases,” Taylor said. “We want to tell stories about where the rubber meets the road. The FBI has to make a series of critical decisions every day on every case, and determine how our government and way of life continues.”
Taylor, Grazer and Imagine TV topper David Nevins will exec produce. Fox is eyeing “The FBI” to potentially air in “24’s” slot next fall, keeping the Monday night slot filled by two government-themed shows from Imagine and 20th.
Project reps the second major commitment — including a hefty penalty — coming out of Fox this week under Reilly. Exec also gave a greenlight over the weekend to “The Oaks,” from scribe David Schulner and exec producer Shawn Ryan.