Network nabs Grammer-Heaton comedy

Fox has made a big-bucks, 13-episode commitment to “Action News,” the Kelsey Grammer-Patricia Heaton laffer from scribes Christopher Lloyd and Steve Levitan.

To win the project, Fox agreed to pay sister studio 20th Century Fox a license fee of $1.3 million-$1.4 million per episode. ABC and CBS both expressed interest in the project, with the Eye dropping out of the bidding first. NBC passed early on.

Besides big money and an episodic order, 20th also asked for certain assurances about timeslots and scheduling. It’s unclear if Fox agreed to those requests.

Project reps the biggest commitment by a network to a comedy for the 2007-08 season. Deal appears to be on a par with what CBS paid Warner Bros. TV last year for “The Class.”

“Action News” will feature Grammer and Heaton as TV journalists and former colleagues who reunite at a local TV station (Daily Variety, Jan. 23). Skein will be an ensemble workplace laffer and, in a rarity these days, a traditional four-camera comedy.

There’s no word yet on a director, but industry insiders note that 20th had a positive experience working with Grammer as a helmer on a pilot last season.

Most industry insiders figured “Action News” would end up at ABC or CBS. But Fox Entertainment prexy Peter Liguori said he believes the quality of the pilot script and the on-air talent involved make it a good fit for the net.

“Funny is bang-on the Fox brand,” he told Daily Variety. “You’ve got a great script, proven writers and great leads with outstanding comedy chops. To us, it’s a triple threat.”

Dana Walden, prexy of 20th Century Fox TV, said the Fox network won “Action News” by making the best offer — and not because it’s owned by the same company as the studio.

“There was no home court advantage on this one whatsoever,” she said. “Peter Liguori won it fair and square.”

Walden said the talent involved in “Action News” made the project “a pretty undeniable package.”

“You’ve started with two incredibly talented showrunners and then you add in two huge performers,” she said. “It’s a little bit of a no-brainer.”

“Action News” started taking shape in early fall. Levitan and Lloyd met with Grammer in October, though he didn’t sign onto the project until he had read the script.

Once Grammer was aboard, “Martin Lesak (of Creative Artists) then decided to get the script over to Patty,” Walden said. That lead to Heaton signing on, completing the mega-package.

“Action News” reps the first major sale for Levitan and Lloyd’s 20th-based shingle.

Grammer continue to have an overall production deal at CBS Paramount Network Television, where he exec produces skeins such as “Girlfriends” and “Medium.” Heaton is currently performing in Off Broadway show “The Scene.”

In other development news:

  • Ron Eldard (“Blind Justice”) has closed a deal to star in “Demons” for CBS. He’ll play the lead role of Gus, a priest who conducts exorcisms. Project is from CBS Par.

  • Rutger Hauer has joined the cast of the CW’s untitled South Africa project (formerly “Wild At Heart”). Project is from CBS Par.

  • Lloyd Owen (“Miss Potter”) is set to play the lead character of Ripley in the CBS musical drama “Viva Laughlin”. Sony and CBS Par are producing.

  • Kim Raver (“24”) has come on board NBC’s “Lipstick Jungle.”

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