HBO joins ‘Shameless’ team

WB, John Wells adapting British series

HBO is teaming with Warner Bros. and writer-producer John Wells on a U.S. version of Blighty’s iconic blue-collar TV drama “Shameless.”

The move follows protracted talks between the skein’s creator British screenwriter Paul Abbott, Wells and various U.S. networks in recent years including NBC, which at one point was poised to remake “Shameless” starring Woody Harrelson.

Mike Lombardo, president of HBO’s programming group and West Coast operations, told local media, “We are developing a U.S. version of ‘Shameless’ with John Wells writing.”

A spokeswoman at Abbott’s British agent, the Agency, added, “Things are at an incredibly early stage.”

In Blighty, “Shameless” is regarded as one of the most innovative TV dramas of the past decade because of its unvarnished and sometimes hilarious take on life in the British underclass.

Set on a public housing estate in the northern English city of Manchester, the skein’s leading character is feckless but lovable Frank, an alcohol and drug abuser living on the margins of society who is the head of the chaotic Gallagher clan.

Abbott, responsible for a string of U.K. TV hits including the political thriller “State of Play,” soon to bow as a feature film, drew on his own painful childhood to write the show.

The original U.K. series, made for Channel 4 by Company Pictures (part of All3Media), has aired Stateside on BBC America and the Sundance Channel.

U.S. webheads have thought long and hard about how to adapt “Shameless” for domestic audiences — at one time Abbott was co-writing a script with Wells. Lombardo said, “How do you move that show to America and not lose its essence?”

The sixth season begins on Channel 4 later this month with a seventh planned for 2010.

NBC’s “ER,” which Wells exec produces, ends its 15-year run in March.

(Dan Frankel in Hollywood contributed to this report.)

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