NBC is back in business with the “Homicide” duo of Tom Fontana and Barry Levinson, while ABC has landed a coveted drama project from scribe Zak Penn (“X-Men: The Last Stand”) and BermanBraun.
Both projects have been given series greenlights — a rare move by broadcast nets at any time of the year, but particularly unheard of during the first week of a new season. Early orders could be a sign that nets are trying to stock up on scripted product in the event of a WGA strike.
At NBC, Fontana and Levinson are teaming with Original Media’s Charlie Corwin (“Half Nelson,” “The Squid and the Whale”) for “The Philanthropist.” Hourlong drama will revolve around a rebel billionaire who uses his money, connections and power to help people in need — no matter the risks.
Fontana is writing the pilot and will exec produce alongside Levinson and Corwin via the Levinson/Fontana Co. and Universal Media Studios. Series is based on a concept by Jim Juvonen, who developed the concept with Corwin and Fontana and will serve as co-exec producer on the pilot. The Peacock made a first-look deal with Corwin last summer.
NBC chief Ben Silverman said he’s been developing “Philanthropist” as a “supersecret project out of New York,” with Fontana quietly penning the script.
“It’s the best character I’ve ever read,” Silverman said. “He’s a little James Bond, a little badass. The world’s in triage, and he wants to help be the Band-Aid.”
Silverman said NBC will produce up to 13 episodes, though the number could be smaller depending on when the show bows.
Fontana/Levinson project is the first to go to series at NBC since the critically hailed “Homicide” in the 1990s. More recently, the duo produced the Spike Lee-helmed Peacock pilot “MONY.”
Over at ABC, net has ordered six episodes of “Section 8,” which Penn is writing with Michael Karnow.
Project — which blends elements of “House,” “X-Men” and “The X-Files” — landed at ABC after attracting offers from every network but NBC. It revolves around a team of everyday people with advanced neurological abnormalities who work for a secret government agency.
“It’s a science-fiction show where the science fiction is as close to reality as possible,” Penn said.
Segs will be self-contained, with mysteries of the week, but characters will develop over the course of a season.
BermanBraun has considered “Section 8” a priority for months, making it one of the fledgling banner’s first development deals (Daily Variety, June 27).
Penn, Lloyd Braun and Gail Berman will exec produce, with Karnow aboard as a producer.
Karnow pitched the idea for “Section 8” to Penn more than a year ago, when Karnow was working as an actor on Penn pic “The Grand.” He said it was the first idea he’d heard that made him want to try TV.
“I want to do a show like ‘X-Files,’ something that each week presents a mystery that has some sort of comment about the way we live or the way we are,” Penn said.
Penn’s credits include the upcoming “Incredible Hulk,” “Elektra” and “Suspect Zero.” Karnow most recently set up “Clan of the Seventh Circle,” which Fox bought for Penn to produce.