Chuck Lorre jumps into ‘bigger sandbox’

Banner adds execs as showrunner expands to film, drama in WB pact

After more than 20 years on the laugh track, Chuck Lorre is ready to learn a new language, or two.

The veteran sitcom showrunner intends to stretch his creative muscles big-time under his new megabucks four-year overall deal with Warner Bros. (Daily Variety, Aug. 21).

Pact, which runs through 2016, calls for him to develop features for Warner Bros. Pictures as well as drama series and projects for cable. For the first time, Lorre is set to bring multiple execs into his Chuck Lorre Prods. banner to help manage the higher volume of projects, especially those in areas that he’s not as versed in as sitcoms.

“I have no illusions that I can do this without help,” Lorre told Variety. An announcement of his exec appointments could come as early as next week.

“To accomplish what I’m hoping to accomplish is going to require a lot of talented people working their asses off,” he said. “I want the input of other people. I don’t want this to be a narrow-minded approach (to new projects) at all.”

As part of his expansion plan, Lorre also intends to devote time to shepherding projects from other writers.

“Part of the real excitement of doing this is the opportunity to help mentor other people and lend assistance to their work where I can,” Lorre said. “It doesn’t always have to begin and end with my work. I think there are lots of opportunities out there to be able to assist someone else in fulfilling their vision. That would be very rewarding for me. Hopefully I’m at a place in my career where I can help somebody get over a few hurdles.”

Lorre’s interest in writing and possibly directing features stems from “a lifelong dream to tell a story with an ending” and a yearning to “have a project in turnaround,” he quipped. Joking aside, the plunge into features comes from a desire “to have a few more colors on the palette to paint from. I’ve been working in a genre for a long time that is fairly limited to two people talking on a couch. And that can be great, but I thought it might be nice to explore other ways for human beings to interact in front of the camera.”

He’s already noodling on feature ideas, though he’s not ready to cite any specifics. Many years ago, Lorre tried fielding a spec feature screenplay. “I couldn’t give it away,” he said. “I thought war-torn Beirut was a great setting for a comedy.”

Drama series appeal to Lorre because he is a regular viewer of many primetime hours. “When I go home at night I generally watch dramas,” he said. “It’s a whole other language. I thought it would be an opportunity at this point in my life to try and learn a new language. … I know there’s going to be a steep learning curve. I’m not assuming this will be an easy transition.”

As much as he wants to broaden his creative horizons, Lorre has no plans to step back from the three CBS laffers that are the cornerstones of his success. Lorre today is the single-most prosperous producer on the WB lot thanks to the more than $1 billion (and counting) in syndication riches that are flowing in from “Two and a Half Men” and “The Big Bang Theory.” His youngest TV offspring, “Mike and Molly,” has also been sold in syndication (for more modest fees) and is heading into its third season on the Eye network. “I love these shows that I’m working on and want very much to stay close to them,” he said. “It’s an amazing blessing to have three shows you can participate in. But I also thought that this is a time in my life to try new things. I mean, if not now, when?”

Lorre, repped by ICM Partners, has been in the Warner Bros. fold since 2000, a union that he noted has lasted longer than either of his marriages. His relationship with Warner Bros. TV prexy Peter Roth stretches back to the mid-1990s when Roth headed 20th Century Fox TV, where Lorre fielded ABC’s “Dharma & Greg.”

“Chuck Lorre is the quintessential comedy writer-producer of our time, the most successful creator/showrunner of the last 25 years in this business,” Roth said. “Chuck has had a profound impact on Warner Bros. Television over the last 12 years, and we look forward to a long and successful future relationship.”

So does Lorre, whose creative ambitions are wider than ever thanks to the new pact.

“I get to play in a bigger sandbox,” he said.

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