Actor to star in TNT's 'Men of a Certain Age'

Ray Romano is plotting a return to the smallscreen via TNT.

Comic thesp has teamed with “Everybody Loves Raymond” scribe-producer Mike Royce to create “Men of a Certain Age,” a comedic one-hour drama in which Romano will also star. In a rare move, TNT is going straight to pilot on the script, which was written outside the normal development process.

“Men” will revolve around three men in their 40s, friends since college, who now find themselves going through midlife crises of various sorts. Project is described as akin to “Sideways” in tone.

Romano and Royce wrote and created “Men” together and both will serve as exec producers. Royce will be showrunner, with Rory Rosegarten and Cary Hoffman aboard as exec producers. TNT is producing the pilot itself, with no studio currently attached.

“Mike and I have always had success writing what we know,” Romano said. “What we know now is that we’re middle-aged, neurotic and fat.”

Michael Wright, who’s in charge of content creation for the Turner networks, said the series is about “the highs and lows of being a guy in the modern era.

“It’s about three best friends, each hoping to fulfill his dreams before the clock starts running out,” he added. “It’s an honest, emotional, funny and very personal take on the subject.”

Wright said Romano had been developing the project for HBO. When the latter net opted last summer not to move forward, Romano, Royce and Wright began discussing moving it to TNT. The WGA strike cooled discussions, but they heated immediately after the walkout ended.

“I was just so impressed with what Ray and Mike wrote,” Wright said. “It’s so authentic … and the humor is so well-observed.’ ‘Search for a director and supporting cast will begin immediately. Assuming a series order, Wright said “Men” is unlikely to debut before early 2009 and could hold until summer of next year.

As for the specifics of the show, Romano will play Joe, a neurotic divorced dad who hoped to become a pro golfer but now owns a party store. His two best friends are a stressed-out car salesman-dad and an aspiring actor.

If greenlit to series — and the odds are very good that it will be — “Men” will mark Romano’s first regular series gig since “Raymond” left the air in May 2005. Royce, who joined “Raymond” in season two and rose to exec producer, was showrunner on HBO’s “Lucky Louie” as part of his deal with the cabler.

TNT has been making an aggressive push into firstrun dramas in recent years. “The Closer” has been a major hit for the cabler.Net is prepping for the debut of two more dramas –“Raising the Bar” and “Leverage” — and has more than a dozen scripted and nonscripted projects in the works. It recently announced plans to move toward a sked of mostly original series by 2010.

“Closer” and “Grace” will be back in July, but Wright confirmed that “Bar” and “Leverage” won’t make their debuts until early fall.

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