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‘Pie’ guys get ‘Chef’; Verhoeven takes ‘Road’

NEW YORK — Directors Chris and Paul Weitz, who displayed the multiple uses of apple pie in “American Pie,” are developing a feature at Universal that will take a more orthodox approach to the art of consummate food preparation. Universal, partnered with producers Marc Platt and Richard and Ann LaGravanese, have optioned the Michael Ruhlman nonfiction book “The Making of a Chef” and will used it as the main course for a romantic comedy about aspiring chefs attending the Culinary Institute of America.

The plan is for the Weitz brothers to script the pic and direct it as their follow to “I Was Made to Love Her,” the Chris Rock comedy for Paramount that the duo is rewriting and will likely direct in February.

According to Richard LaGravanese, the food project grew out of his wife’s enthusiasm for gourmet cooking and her passion for the book. In George Plimpton-style, Ruhlman immerses himself in worlds for the purpose of his books, and threw himself into the frying pan by enrolling in the famously rigorous Culinary Institute and describing his experiences.

Appropriately, the creative ties on the project were cooked up over a series of power meals. “During a lunch with Marc Platt, we found we had a mutual enthusiasm for food and that book, and we optioned it,” said LaGravanese. Platt, who hired the Weitz duo for “American Pie” while Universal prexy, then lunched with the brothers. “Chris had just read this book and said that if he wasn’t a screenwriter, he’d want to be a chef,” said LaGravanese.

LaGravanese, who just finished a stint doing rewrite work during the production of the Steven Soderbergh-directed Julia Roberts starrer “Erin Brockovich” for U and Jersey, could have written the script himself, but said all parties liked the enthusiasm the brothers showed for the project. Using Ruhlman’s real-life experiences as a guide, they’ve outlined the comedy.

The Weitzes plate is pretty full, what with the Rock pic and a TV deal with DreamWorks to create a series for the WB Network. But they’ll script as soon as they finish the Par film. U exec veep Allison Brecker will steer the project for the studio. William Morris agented the Weitz guys.

VERHOEVEN’S ‘ROAD’ TRIP: Director Paul Verhoeven is on board for “The Secret Road,” a film proposal based on a treatment written by journo/producer Howard Blum that sold to Columbia for a mid-six-against-high-six figure deal.

Verhoeven, who is now nearing completion on “The Hollow Man” for Columbia, has long been interested in doing a film on World War II, and one day hopes to make a movie about young Adolph Hitler and how he was able to charm his way into power and become the most vilified world figure of the century. “The Secret Road” gives him another way to use Hitler’s Germany as antagonist.

Blum, who has set up many fact-based journalistic stories as films, stumbled upon the story of a covert band of Palestinian Jews who posed as German troops in 1942 to sabotage the Nazi drive from North Africa to Cairo. The drama involves the political and moral issues behind the effort as much as it covers the mission itself. Col’s Doug Belgrad will oversee the project. Blum and Verhoeven were repped by CAA, with Verhoeven managed by Marion Rosenberg.

TUBE MARATHON: When Jack Lechner exited his post as executive vice president of production and development at Miramax, he did it with a plan: to sit at home and watch television. Actually, 12 televisions for 16 hours a day for one full week, all for a Crown book he’s writing called “Up to My Eyeballs: One Man, Seven Days, 12 Televisions.” Lechner ankled Miramax to write a book inspired by the 1967 book “Seven Glorious Days, Seven Fun-filled Nights,” in which Charles Sopkin analyzed the culture as seen through the small screen.

“I had the idea while at Miramax, and didn’t renew my contract so that I could write the book,” said Lechner, who rarely had watched the tube while concentrating on film scripts. “I was not an active consumer, which I thought would lend to an interesting perspective of where TV is at the end of the millennium, when networks are losing their strangleholds over viewer eyeballs.”

Zenith lent him a dozen sets and Lechner watched nonstop the week of Sept. 26. His ICM agent Suzanne Gluck sent her 4-year-old son Nicky to explain “Pokemon,” another friend interpreted soap operas. The book will be out next October and Lechner’s now ready to go back to the bigscreen. He hardly watches TV anymore, except the soap “Passions,” to which he developed an addiction.

How does 16 hours of tube fare compare with the same dose of Miramax boss Harvey Weinstein? “Nothing compares to Harvey,” Lechner said. “He’s far more demanding and entertaining than any TV show I saw.”

DISHINGS: The recent seven-figure sales of Scott Turow’s “Personal Injuries” and Marc Levy’s “If Only It Were True,” and even the no money down deal on Michael Crichton’s “Timeline” seems to have turned studio execs into voracious readers again.

The town’s been in a lather for “The Runner,” a novel by Christopher Reich of which just the first two chapters were given to studios clamoring for prose. The tale’s about intrigue in post-WWII Germany, as a lawyer trying war criminals hunts down an SS POW who’s escaped.

Lit agent Richard Pine, who’s selling the book with Endeavor, said demand was so great for the book that they sent out chapters because Reich so strongly detailed the protagonist and antagonist within them.

The whole book ought to be ready later this week, and Pine — who’s also looking at a big Par sale for James Patterson’s “Pop Goes the Weasel” — said no bids would be accepted until the whole book’s in the marketplace.

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