With the NFL’s nod of approval, TNT has greenlit production on the original telefilm “The Second String,” a football drama that will feature top NFL players.

A lighthearted story about what happens when the Buffalo Bills’ starters can’t play and the second string team must fill in, “The Second String,” will feature footage from NFL games. The league is in discussion with the Bills’ Doug Flutie and Bruce Smith as well as players from opposing teams about having cameos in the telefilm. No other casting has been determined.

Rob Lieberman will direct “Second String” from Tom Flynn’s script. Michael London will exec produce the telefilm, which will begin production in Buffalo, N.Y., and Toronto in first quarter of 2000. No show date has been determined.

Avoiding tackles

The NFL is notoriously cautious about being associated with projects that may not present the league favorably. While they have cooperated with theatrical films such as “Big Daddy,” “Out of Sight,” “There’s Something About Mary,” and “Jerry Maguire,” they recently turned down Oliver Stone’s request to use NFL footage in “Any Given Sunday.”

“We don’t want to be involved with a scene that would portray a football player in an unflattering light, or an owner in a bar, for instance. We’ll walk away from a project if we know it’s not the image we would like to portray,” said David Newman, NFL Properties VP, marketing and events.

Promo opp

The NFL sees these types of relationships as promotional, rather than financial opportunities. “Second String” will be a TNT production, and the NFL will not share in advertising revenue from the project. “This is not a moneymaking proposition — it’s a fan development tool,” Newman said.

Last month, Columbia TriStar TV signed a long-term deal with the NBA to produce scripted dramas and sitcoms for the broadcast networks’ primetime schedules. As to whether the NFL would be open to a similar sort of deal, NFL spokesman Brian McCarthy said: “We have a long-standing tradition of working with the entertainment industry. We’re always interested in communicating with a broader fan base. Nothing is out of the range of possibility.”