Fox Broadcasting has snagged one of the “Kings of Comedy,” signing veteran standup Bernie Mac to star in a family comedy for fall 2001.
Web has made a put pilot commitment to the Mac project, to be created and exec produced by Larry Wilmore (“The PJs”) via Regency Television and 20th Century Fox Television. Production has been fast-tracked, with the pilot to be shot in January for consideration for a spot on Fox’s 2001 fall sked.
In other development news, Fox has given Warner Bros. Television a put pilot order for a small-screen laffer based loosely on the National Lampoon “Vacation” series of pics.
Should the Mac project be picked up as a series, the comic would become the last of the four “Kings” to land a regular TV comedy role. D.L. Hughley and Steve Harvey both have their own laffers, while Cedric the Entertainer is a regular on Harvey’s skein.
Fox Entertainment topper Gail Berman, who signed Wilmore to a script deal while she was in control of Regency, said Mac fits in with her vision of what a Fox show should represent.
“We’re about being in the strong point-of-view business,” she said, adding that Mac and Wilmore both have “something to say.”
“It’s a very distinctive show,” she said. “We love the idea and the whole concept.”
Deal comes just a few weeks after Mac comically complained about his lack of sitcom stardom during an appearance on HBO’s “The Chris Rock Show.”
“It was a joke,” Mac said of his “Rock” rant, explaining that he’s never made sitcom stardom a priority.
“I don’t want to be on TV just for the sake of being on TV,” he told Daily Variety. “I don’t want to be punchline, joke, cute little kid.”
Mac was then approached by Wilmore, who had seen “The Original Kings of Comedy” and immediately dreamed up a concept for a half-hour laffer that played off a Mac routine about child-rearing. Wilmore already had a script deal with 20th and Regency; when Mac showed interest in Wilmore’s pitch, the studios then signed Mac to a deal.
Wilmore describes the Mac project as “a sitcom which will resemble the way ‘The Real World’ is done.”
“It will be shot documentary style, sort of ‘The Real World’ meets ‘Big Brother,’ ” Wilmore said.
Premise has Mac playing himself and picks up with Mac and his wife suddenly finding themselves responsible for the children of Mac’s sister.
Fisheye cameras will capture the action in the Mac household, while the comic will offer first-person testimonials about what’s going on around him.
“We’ll have Bernie telling how he really feels about things, in a naturalistic way as opposed to a forced set-up,” Wilmore said. “The show is completely scripted, but it will feel completely natural. We want to keep Bernie’s voice intact as much as possible.”
While he’s had pilot deals before, Mac has largely shunned series television for fear of having to compromise his comic persona. “I didn’t feel like fighting Hollywood about my culture,” he said. “I don’t want to be another fish in the pond.”
Mac believes Regency, 20th and Wilmore are willing to let him remain true to himself. “If I do TV, it’s because I like the creative control they’ve given me, the ownership in the show,” he said. “Fox really came to the plate, and as for Regency, I really like their creative style. (The execs at both studios) were dedicated to me. I like the way they empower the talent. They stand back and let you grow.”
Mac is repped by UTA, Steven Greener at Union and attorney Barry Hirsch. Greener will have a producer credit on the series.
Wax is repped by Marc Wax of the Wax Agency and attorney Tom Hoberman.
Mac’s feature credits include “Life,” “The Players Club,” “Friday” and helmer Spike Lee’s “Get on the Bus.” He’s had recurring roles on “Moesha” and “The Wayan Bros.”
In addition to co-creating “The PJs,” Wilmore has written for “The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air,” “In Living Color” and “The Jamie Foxx Show.”
Lampooning the family
As for the “Vacation” pilot, Fox and Warner Bros. TV have recruited “Friends” exec producer Kevin Bright and “The Drew Carey Show’s” Clay Graham to shape a small-screen version of the “Vacation” pics.
Show will focus on the exploits of the Griswold family as they travel cross-country. WBTV shot an updated “Vacation” starring Gary Cole last pilot season, but Fox passed on the project.