Sinbad sailing to Disney

Walt Disney Studios is getting into the Sinbad business, making a television series and motion picture deal with the popular comic.

Under the agreement, brokered by William Morris senior VP Robert Lee and agent Jenny Delaney, Sinbad will make his feature-starring debut in “Houseguest, ” a comedy to be produced by Joe Roth’s Caravan Pictures this summer.

Disney also gets a first look at all feature projects developed by Sinbad, who is setting up offices on the Burbank lot.

The comic, a regular from 1987-91 on NBC’s “A Different World,” has also been signed to star in and produce a half-hour comedy series being developed by Walt Disney TV.

According to Lee, Sinbad will have “a significant ownership” in the show and Disney has “stepped up for a 13-episode guaranteed commitment” to the performer.

No network or concept has been set, although the show will likely be written and developed by Larry Strawther and Gary Murphy, former exec producers of “Night Court,” who entered into an exclusive TV and feature deal with Disney in August 1990.

The pair spent three years on “Court,” preceded by a stint on another Warner Bros. comedy, “My Sister Sam.”

Lee and Delaney said the goal of the Disney deal “was to achieve an equal amount of attention on the feature side as the TV side.”

Sinbad has received extra exposure lately in a TV ad campaign for a line of basketball shoes, and Disney TV exec VP Dean Valentine noted that the studio feels the comic has broad appeal because his act is for the most part clean, making him “very much the kind of talent who belongs at Disney.”

The feature portion of the deal provides that Sinbad has been made pay-or-play on “Houseguest.”

If for any reason “Houseguest” fails to go into production, that pay-or-play deal will stand as a commitment for another movie, Lee explained.

Roth said he hopes to be shooting the under-$ 15 million movie this summer, most likely in July.

Mistaken identity

Scripted by Lawrence Gay and Michael DiGaetano, “Houseguest” is about a white family in suburban Cleveland who mistakenly take in a houseguest they think is a respected dentist but who turns out to be a convicted felon on the run (Sinbad).

Roth said he was submitted the script by the writers’ agent, Jon Levin, at Creative Artists Agency, though the property had been under a 30-day option by Hollywood Pictures before the former 20th Century Fox chairman set up shop at Disney.

Roth said he expects a script in the next couple of weeks.

“Houseguest” will likely be the third picture to go before the cameras for Caravan, after “The Three Musketeers” (April 15) and “Angie, I Says” (May 17) and before “I Love Trouble,” starring Nick Nolte and Julia Roberts. “Trouble” is targeted for a September start (see story, page 1).

Roth believes he and Caravan producing partner Roger Birnbaum will start six or seven movies before the end of the year.