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A&E packs ‘Wolfe’

Hutton, Chaykin topline cabler's 2nd series

A&E has given the go-ahead to its second U.S.-based series, landing stars Timothy Hutton and Maury Chaykin to reprise their roles in “Nero Wolfe,” a followup to the cabler’s March telepic “The Golden Spiders.”

Last month, A&E signed off on a 13-hour commitment to Sidney Lumet’s “100 Centre Street,” which starts production soon in New York for scheduling early in 2001.

Allen Sabinson, senior VP of programming for A&E, says the network originally planned to do a series of two-hour movies centering on private detective Nero Wolfe, starting with “Spiders,” which racked up a hefty 3.2-million cable households when A&E ran it March 5.

12-hour commitment

That rating, coupled with the critical praise garnered by Chaykin in the role of Wolfe and by Hutton as Wolfe’s assistant Archie Goodwin, prompted A&E to sign Chaykin and Hutton to a series encompassing 12 hours.

Michael Jaffe, one of the producers of both “Wolfe” and “100 Centre Street” with his partner Howard Braunstein, said the “Wolfe” episodes will cost $1 million apiece. In exchange for an undisclosed license fee, A&E will get to own the series in the U.S. and Canada. Jaffe-Braunstein, which owns “Wolfe” in the rest of the world, has licensed the distribution of the series outside the U.S. to Pearson Intl. TV.

Sources said the combination of A&E’s and Pearson’s license fees will cover the full production cost of “Wolfe.” The series will be shot in Toronto, which will double for New York in the 1950s.

Jaffe said that all the episodes will be based on the novels of Rex Stout, who wrote a total of 72 between 1934 and 1975. Hutton will direct the first episode, a two-hour adaptation by Jaffe of Stout’s “The Doorbell Rang,” featuring J. Edgar Hoover as a character.

“Wolfe” and “Centre Street” are the first domestic series A&E has commissioned, after buying innumerable British-produced detective series — everything from Sherlock Holmes to Inspector Poirot — and miniseries.

Sabinson said more U.S.-based original series are in development.

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