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Russell to make ‘Mitty’; Reiser’s ‘Mad’ no more

In what shapes up as a “Mask” reteam, New Line has made a deal for Chuck Russell to rewrite “The Secret Life of Walter Mitty” and direct Jim Carrey in the starring role originated by Danny Kaye.

Russell, who last directed Carrey at New Line in “The Mask,” will begin working on the script as soon as he completes directing Kim Basinger in the supernatural thriller “Bless the Child” for Paramount.

New Line and producer Samuel Goldwyn Jr. hope Russell will be able to direct Carrey early next year in the starring role of the timid character who, in daydreams, becomes a brave hero.

Carrey is currently starring for Peter and Bobby Farrelly in “Me, Myself and Irene” at Fox, after which he’ll move directly into “How the Grinch Stole Christmas!” for the Imagine team of director Ron Howard and producer Brian Grazer at Universal.

Much like the subject matter, “Mitty” has been the fantasy project at New Line since the studio gained the rights and made a deal to bring in Carrey, who’d previously toplined for the studio the $100 million grossing hits “The Mask” and “Dumb and Dumber.” It has been a challenge to contemporize the story and bring in the right filmmaker. The project seemed to be on the fast track when the Imagine duo of Howard and Grazer negotiated to do the film from a script by Lowell Ganz and Babaloo Mandel, but that equation did not work out.

New Line executives Richard Saperstein and Michael De Luca, who’ve been shepherding the film for the studio, hope that Russell, who’s repped by the William Morris Agency, will get the film back on the fast track and Carrey into the role that Kaye originated in the 1947 comedy.

CURIOUS NETWORK MOVES: The just-completed pilot season probably had more political intrigue that any season in recent memory. There were network-owned shows getting the upper hand over those independently owned, and there was Daniel Stern’s curious maneuvers that might have cost the show he was going to star in, “Partners,” a slot on CBS’s fall sked.

Skeptical eyes are also being cast upon a couple of surprising omissions from fall skeds. One is the ABC pilot “Sugar Hill,” the cop comedy hatched by “Spin City” creator Gary David Goldberg, which tested well and had a strong ensemble headed by Charlie Sheen and Joey Pantoliano. Some feel the show was in the wrong place at the wrong time: Disney owns ABC and the show’s produced by DreamWorks, where DW partner Jeff Katzenberg is locked in an acrimonious coutroom battle with Disney chief Michael Eisner.

Perhaps the most compelling case of a show caught in the wrong place at the wrong time was “Falcone,” which not only didn’t make CBS’s schedule, but was singled out by CBS topper Les Moonves for its violence quotient. The pilot’s making the agency rounds, and Dish got a copy. Guess what? It’s no more violent than CBS shows like “Nash Bridges” or “Walker, Texas Ranger.” It’s a rather compelling marriage between the Ken Wahl series “Wiseguy” and “Donnie Brasco,” the critically acclaimed feature from which “Falcone” was born. Set in the same violent world as HBO’s “The Sopranos,” “Falcone” has some violence, but it hardly seems gratuitous, and the bodycount nowhere near that of an average episode of “Buffy the Vampire Slayer.”

There are two violent scenes. One, in which a mobster’s offed with an icepick, could easily be cut. The finale features two shootings, ending with a hood blowing away three rivals, while the undercover agent watches, is powerless to prevent it, and must maintain his composure.

By midseason, the political problems hindering both “Sugar Hill” and “Falcone” should be a distant memory, and it wouldn’t be surprising to see either or both on the air.

POST ‘MAD,’ REISER SCRIPTS PIC PACT: After completing the seven-season run of “Mad About You,” Paul Reiser is moving right on to a development deal he’s signed with Rob Reiner and Castle Rock to write an original screenplay about a young man and his father who set out on the road to solve the mysteries of their family. Though he’s not yet come up with a title, Reiser will star in the film as well as produce it. The idea is something he’s thought about for several years, and was able to act upon while working with Reiner on the upcoming Castle Rock pic “The Story of Us,” in which he starred with Bruce Willis and Michelle Pfeiffer. Reiser’s repped by CAA and Arthur Spivak of Spivak Ent.

FOREST’S THESP PLANS: Actor/director Forest Whitaker, just back from Cannes stumping for the Jim Jarmusch western “Ghost Dog: The Way of the Samurai,” is about to make a deal to costar with Annabella Sciorra and John Leguizamo in “R XMAS” for director Abel Ferrara, and is in talks to join John Travolta in “Battlefield Earth.”

At the same time, he’s pondering offers for the pics “Where the Heart Is” and the star-studded Alfonso Arau-directed indie “Picking up the Pieces.” Whitaker’s repped by Michael Rotenberg and Jeff Golenberg of 3 Arts Ent. and William Morris.

DISHINGS: Plans for Universal to establish cochairpost with Stacey Snider and Brian Mulligan (Daily Variety, May 24) came after the studio’s top finance exec was offered job replacing Chris McGurk but wanted more creative job of chairman. Putting his financial savvy with Snider’s creative background sounds smart, but it remains to be seen whether it quells the continuing persistent though hotly denied speculation that DreamWorks management will ultimately take the U reins. …

Scribe Preston Whitmore just got a greenlight from Chris Blackwell’s Palm Pictures on “Lockdown,” an African-American themed prison pic that John Luessenhop will direct starring rappers Master P and Naughty By Nature repper Treach.

Whitmore’s an equal-opportunity scribe: he’s about to hit the market with spec script “Civil Brand,” a prison pic involving African-American females. Whitmore’s repped by Gersh’s Richard Arlook and managed by Evolution Ent., which will produce.

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