Jersey TV revving up slate

Nets ink a dozen deals

One year after setting up shop at 20th Century Fox Television, Jersey Television is moving forward with an ambitious 2000-01 primetime development slate.

Under recently hired prexy John Landgraf, Jersey Television seems to be closely following parent company Jersey Films’ strategy of pursuing offbeat projects with commercial appeal.

Pilots in development include “Celebrity,” a comedy-drama about young stars from scribe Shane Salerno (“Shaft”); an hourlong sibling drama from “Profiler” creator Cynthia Saunders; a comedic soap opera from scribes Chris Lynch and Loren Segan for Fox Broadcasting; and a half-hour laffer about struggling artists in N.Y.’s East Village from writer David Goldsmith and exec producer Whoopi Goldberg.

Plethora of pitches

While Jersey partners Danny DeVito, Michael Shamberg and Stacey Sher tapped Landgraf to head Jersey Television just five months ago, the unit has quickly found success pitching projects to programmers, inking nearly a dozen standard and premium script deals with networks. Jersey also has five projects in active development at 20th Century Fox Television and is working on several telefilms and a reality skein.

“We want to be a full-service boutique company,” Landgraf said Monday, outlining his goals for Jersey TV in an interview with Daily Variety. A chief priority, he said, is transforming Jersey Television into a brand with the same aura as Jersey Films, much as Imagine Television has come to be identified with quality product.

“This slate represents an attempt to re-create in television the brand and identity Jersey has painstakingly carved out for itself in film, which is for smart, funny, stylish entertainment.”

Over the past decade, Jersey has produced pics such as “Hoffa,” “Pulp Fiction,” “Get Shorty,” “Out of Sight” and “Living Out Loud.” The studio’s next big pics include the Jim Carrey starrer “Man on the Moon” and Steven Soderbergh’s “Erin Brokovich,” with Julia Roberts.

Beyond expectations

Landgraf, a former NBC veep of primetime series, said that when he arrived at Jersey at the end of May, his best-case scenario was for the company to have around 10 projects in development for fall 2000. The unit now has 16 projects in the script stage, divided evenly between comedy and drama, and several more comedy scripts are expected to be pitched to webs.

Execs at 20th Century Fox Television said they’re thrilled at how successful Jersey has been during its first real development season.

“We take our partnerships very seriously, and when we made the deal with Jersey we fully committed ourselves to helping them make their mark in television as they’d done so successfully in film,” said 20th Century Fox Television topper Sandy Grushow. “And I think the quality and quantity of the projects thus far in development speak volumes about the hard work on both sides that’s gone into making that commitment a reality.”

Added 20th Century Fox Television drama exec veep Dana Walden: “There are a lot of vanity labels out there, but what’s different about Jersey is that they’ve picked the right guy (in Landgraf) to run their company. The result is that they’ve produced twice, maybe three times as many projects (as most similar deals).”

Despite the unusually large number of projects in the works, execs at the company said there’s no plan to transform the unit from a boutique supplier into a TV factory.

Quality not quantity

“We’re not in the volume business. We’re in the quality business,” said Shamberg. “I’m delighted about our development because every one of the projects has a reason for being that you can be excited about.”

Landgraf added that the number of skeins in development at Jersey is still small enough to allow for careful shepherding of each project. “We’re still able to devote real time and attention to everything we do,” he said.

Jersey Television has yet to receive a production commitment for any of its projects, but that’s not surprising considering most of the talent involved in the unit’s would-be skeins are not heavyweight TV commodities. Instead, the scribes and producers attached are a mix of tyro feature scribes, playwrights and relatively young TV writers.

In addition to the aforementioned projects, Jersey Television has also sold scripts for the following:

  • Feature scribe Kayla Alpert (“Bitch, Bitch, Bitch”) has created an hourlong romantic comedy-mystery skein about two independent forensic consultants (NBC).

  • A contemporary take on “The Graduate” called “The Left Coast” from scribe Richard Kelly, who wrote the unsold feature “Donnie Darko” (Fox).

  • Scribes Jason Keller and Steve Young are working on a comedic action skein in the vein of “Get Shorty.” Keller teamed with DeVito to write “Sugar’s Sweet Science of Bruising,” starring and directed by DeVito (Fox).

  • Scribe Kip Koenig (“Wasteland”) has penned a romantic comedy-drama from the point of view of a female radio talkshow host (NBC).

  • Comedy troupe Broken Lizard is working on a half-hour comedy for Fox.

  • TNBC vets Robert Tarlow (“One World,” “Hang Time”) and Robin Schwartz are developing a half-hour sitcom about a group of high school teens who run an Internet business (Fox).

  • Feature scribe Sal Stabile (“Gravesend”) has created a half-hour laffer described as “The Wonder Years” meets “American Pie” (Fox).

  • Ross Venokur (“Kenan & Kel”) is behind “Scarsdale,” a suburban-set sitcom with a nontraditional teen protagonist.