“Hairspray” producers Craig Zadan and Neil Meron are singing a new tune in television, inking a lucrative pilot production deal with CBS.
Prolific pair are also reaffirming their telepic roots, reupping a long-running deal with Sony Pictures Television to produce movies and minis for the smallscreen. They’ve set up four projects at Lifetime under the deal.
Deal with the Eye calls for Zadan and Meron to develop at least three scripts for the network, with CBS guaranteeing production of one pilot. Pact marks a change in strategy for the producers, who operate under the Storyline Entertainment banner.
Duo had been based at ABC Studios for the last few years, developing projects for the Disney production arm and then pitching them to nets. Now, Storyline is focusing its development on one web, CBS, but will be free to set up projects at any studio around town.
That will give Zadan and Meron access to a wider array of writing talent. It also brings them back to a network that gave them their first big TV triumph, the telepic adaptation of “Gypsy.”
“The thing about Nina (Tassler) and Leslie (Moonves) is that they’re into taking risks and want to step out in front of the pack,” Meron told Daily Variety. “They want to make appointment TV, and that’s the kind of television we’re interested in.”
Zadan said Storyline’s goal is to bring to series the philosophy that’s guided their feature and telepic projects.
“What we’ve been able to do in TV movies and feature films is create big events, like ‘Hairspray,’ ‘Annie,’ ‘Cinderella’ and ‘Chicago,’ ” he said. “Where we haven’t done that yet, and plan to do it now, is with series. Nina and Les are giving us the opportunity to ‘eventize’ the series.”
Producers emphasized they’re still in business with both ABC and ABC Studios, readying “A Raisin in the Sun” for the network and a possible Diane Warren-inspired series via the studio.
Zadan and Meron have already set up two hourlong projects at CBS, with a third in the works. Producers are keeping a lid on details, per the network’s request.
The Sony deal will keep duo in business with the studio for longform through mid-2009. It cements a relationship in place since 1994.
Sony longform topper Helen Verno said Zadan and Meron have delivered consistently, from their first pic at the studio (“Serving in Silence”) to their most recent (“Raisin in the Sun”).
Storyline has set up four projects at Lifetime via their Sony deal.
“HER 2,” from scribe Vivienne Radkoff, tells the story of the doctor who pioneered a groundbreaking breast cancer treatment. “It’s very much in the tradition of ‘And the Band Played On,’ ” Zadan said.
Producers are also teaming with scribe Liz Egloff and co-exec producer-helmer Maggie Greenwald on an untitled project about Jane Aronson, who helps engineer adoptions of orphans internationally.
Zadan and Meron have also taken two projects that had been set up at other nets and moved them to Lifetime.
Cabler is developing “Going the Other Way,” a biography of gay baseball player Billy Bean from scribe Larry Andries (“Six Feet Under”). It had been at Showtime until the cabler got out of the telepic biz.
Alan Poul is exec producing with Zadan and Meron.
Then there’s a new take on “Blue Lagoon,” which Matt Heller and Heather Rutman are writing. The WB had been developing the project before it croaked.
“We pay homage to the original, but it’s very much not the original,” Meron said. “It explores contemporary sexuality and also has a very sharp sense of humor.”
Storyline and Sony have attached new writers to both “Going the Other Way” and “Blue Lagoon,” developing new scripts to reflect Lifetime’s sensibilities.
Also at Sony, Zadan and Meron are exec producers on “Family Man,” a TNT series project set up before the CBS deal. William H. Macy stars.
Another series project in the works at Storyline is a previously announced romantic drama featuring music by Warren. ABC Studios is producing for Lifetime.
In addition to “Hairspray” — which had the biggest opening weekend gross for a musical and has now made north of $118 million domestically — Zadan and Meron are prepping for the Christmas Day release of “The Bucket List.” Warner is behind the Rob Reiner pic, which stars Jack Nicholson and Morgan Freeman.
Zadan and Meron will be honored Oct. 22 with the Hollywood Film Festival’s producers of the year award.