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Fox rocks with Mamas & Papas pic

NEW YORK — After almost two years of negotiating, Fox and producer John Davis have closed a $1 million rights deal to turn the story of ’60s band the Mamas & the Papas into a feature film.

While the studio is completing negotiations for the music rights, deals are in place with band members John Phillips, Michelle Phillips and Denny Doherty, as well as the estate of Cass Elliot to chronicle their rise and fall, complete with the kind of romantic entanglements that are usually the stuff of fiction.

The band was hatched by 25-year old John Phillips after he fell in love with 16-year old Michelle while touring with his folk group the Journeymen in 1964. After the young woman brazenly confronted Phillips’ wife, that marriage broke up and John and Michelle soon got married and invited singers Doherty and Cass to join them in what became the Mamas & the Papas. While they soon had a No. 1 hit with their very first single, “California Dreamin’,” the group members’ close-knit relationships grew nightmarish when Michelle fell in love with Denny; Cass, unbeknownst to Doherty, was madly in love with him as well. John briefly fired Michelle from the band. Her photograph was even excised from an album cover with a lookalike hired to replace her.

She returned, and the quartet had a few more hits, like “Monday, Monday,” with songwriter John Phillips instilling a style that married folk and pop music. But bickering and drugs led the band to part ways shortly after a memorable appearance at the Monterey Pop Festival in 1967. Elliot died in 1974 of heart failure just as her solo career got going; the band was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1998.

Though the members have put their demons behind them, relations between them are still raw. That made the film deal especially tough, which is why it took so long and why previous attempts by other studios proved unavailing. The Fox effort began when Michelle Phillips’ manager Larry Kennar attempted to shop her rights. Her ex once again rejected the notion, but this time, producer John Davis would not let it go. He spent well over a year winning over each Mama and Papa, ensuring that each would have a fair say in shaping the story. John Phillips, Michelle Phillips and Denny Doherty will all be exec producers, and the studio is looking for the right screenwriter and director to tell the band’s story. The members won’t seek a whitewash, as they participated in a recent VH1 bio and each member was candid about the turbulent past.

Davis just wrapped “Breakers” at MGM with Gene Hackman, Sigourney Weaver and Jennifer Love Hewitt, and he is starting production on a “Dr. Dolittle” sequel with Eddie Murphy.

GALECKI BACK FOR TUBE DUTY: Johnny Galecki, who followed an eight-year run on “Roseanne” with a string of film roles, is headed back to the small screen. Galecki (“The Opposite of Sex,” “I Know What You Did Last Summer”), who will soon be seen in the Gwyneth Paltrow/Ben Affleck starrer “Bounce” for Miramax and in Disney’s “Playing Mona Lisa,” has signed a deal with Warner Bros. TV for a fall 2001 series he’ll develop and produce with Bruce Helford, executive producer and co-creator of “The Drew Carey Show.” It’s a reunion for Galecki and Helford, who also toiled on “Roseanne.” Galecki’s manager, Eric Kranzler of Industry Entertainment, will also be aboard as executive consultant on the series. Galecki is repped by UTA and Industry’s Kranzler and Sandra Chang, as well as attorney Steve Warren.

HOLLAND’S OPUS: After graduating from an Emmy-winning run as director of “The Larry Sanders Show” to co-exec producing and directing most episodes of the Fox hit sitcom “Malcolm in the Middle,” Todd Holland would like to do a feature. Trouble is, he said he’s found nothing that surpasses the increased quality he’s found on the small screen, where character development rules. So Holland, who got an Emmy nom for his “Malcolm” work and will direct another nine episodes this season, has drafted established screen scribes to participate in two new series creations for Regency TV, where Holland has an overall deal. With Brandon Camp and Mike Thompson, he’s creating the hourlong drama “Nightingale”; with “Face/Off” scribe Mike Werb, he’s creating the sitcom “Dinner at Eight.”

Holland described “Nightingale,” a series done with the Camp/Thompson team which scripted “Steinbeck’s Point of View,” as “a female-driven idea I came up with in which a woman is given a terrible gift, on the order of ‘The Dead Zone,’ which is a story I always loved.” After her husband is killed, the woman has strange nocturnal experiences in which she takes actions that aren’t readily explainable.

With Werb, he’s working on the comedy that’s loosely based on Werb’s family. “I approached Mike and his writing partner Michael Colleary to write ‘Nightingale,’ and Mike Werb had this idea about how everybody gathered at his grandma’s house each week for dinner, where they discussed how their lives were going,” said Holland. Holland also helmed the upcoming pilot “Freakylinks” for “Blair Witch” co-creator Greg Hale. Holland’s work on “Sanders” and “Malcolm” makes him an unlikely candidate for supernatural dramas, though the dual duty marries the subject of the graduate film he made at UCLA, the horror comedy “Chicken Thing.”

WRITER’S CRAMP: While most screenwriters are scribbling with a frenzy to complete projects before the expected production strike next year, perhaps none has been more successful recently than screenwriter Jeff Nathanson. After a writing stint on “Coyote Ugly,” Nathanson was just brought in for a rewrite of the Sony comedy “Scared Guys,” to be directed by Dean Parisot, which is among several films being considered for Jim Carrey’s next slot.

Nathanson wrote “Rush Hour 2,” which goes into production this fall at New Line with Brett Ratner directing Chris Tucker and Jackie Chan. He also wrote the DreamWorks drama “Catch Me If You Can,” which Leonardo DiCaprio will star in this March, possibly for director Gore Verbinski. And “Rodolfo,” a script he wrote several years ago for Imagine, has been reinvigorated, with Fina Torres (“Woman on Top”) ready to direct the story of a Mexican immigrant’s journey from L.A. to Mexico after he finds America a lousy place to live. Nathanson’s repped by UTA.

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