HBO pilot set in world of cable news

With HBO circling Jeff Daniels to topline its new Aaron Sorkin drama series, the pay cabler is looking to add a key face to its next iteration of original dramas.

A deal for Daniels would mark the thesp’s first series-starring gig after a few guest-starring roles during his lengthy career. Thesp, a Michigan native who rarely leaves his home state for film and almost never for TV, has been well regarded by Hollywood execs as a potential anchor for a television series.

HBO, which just concluded “Big Love” and is set to launch “Game of Thrones” on April 17, continues to pursue drama series with an edge. The Sorkin project — a behind-the-scenes look at a cable news network — fits that bill.

Sorkin, who is coming off an Oscar win for his screenplay of “The Social Network,” has much more history as a TV writer and exec producer than a bigscreen scribe. This untitled pilot is somewhat of a return to his first series, ABC’s “Sports Night,” which examined the backstage goings-on of an ESPN-like network.

In preparing the pilot, Sorkin spent time with a handful of cable personalities, including Keith Olbermann and Chris Matthews, to get a sense of what a typical day is like at MSNBC.

Daniels, who has appeared in a handful of indies in the last few years, would play the lead — the host of his own show who, from the network perspective, can be difficult to handle.

HBO execs have been busy lately on the programming front. After Lena Dunham impressed with her indie film “Tiny Furniture,” HBO recently greenlit her comedy “Girls” to series. However, not all pilots have been so lucky. The pay cabler recently said “no” to “Tilda,” the Diane Keaton and Ellen Page starrer that centers on a prominent Hollywood blogger.

In other HBO news, James Gandolfini is heading back to New Jersey. The actor, who became a much-recognized personality for his role as a mafia kingpin in “The Sopranos,” is set to star and exec produce the pay cabler’s telepic adaptation of the novel “Eating With the Enemy: How I Waged Peace With North Korea From My BBQ Shack in Hackensack.”

Book, written by Robert Egan and Kurt Pitzer, examines the true story of a restaurant owner who forged a relationship with the North Korean Mission in upper Manhattan and went on to play an important role as a liaison in U.S.-North Korean relations.

Gandolfini’s Attaboy Prods., as well at Tribeca Prods., will produce.

Thesp also is set to star in HBO’s TV movie “Cinema Verite,” an in-depth look at the Loud family — the clan who starred in what some consider the first-ever reality show, “An American Family.”

“Cinema Verite,” which also stars Diane Lane and Tim Robbins, is set to premiere April 23.

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