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Sandler laffer at NL; Close open to HBO live

New Line has acquired an untitled romantic comedy pitch for Adam Sandler to star in and produce, with Oscar-nominated “As Good As It Gets” scribe Mark Andrus aboard to write the script.

Project is based on an idea from Sandler that New Line prexy Michael De Luca and senior veep Brian Witten sparked to immediately. It is expected to be fast-tracked as soon as Andrus completes his script.

The project reteams Sandler with New Line, where he starred with Drew Barrymore in the $80 million domestic grosser “The Wedding Singer,” and just wrapped “Little Nicky,” the Steve Brill-directed comedy that co-stars Patricia Arquette, Harvey Keitel and Rodney Dangerfield, scheduled to open Nov. 17.

That pic kicked off a two-pic commitment with New Line. The new project is separate from that previous commitment, giving New Line a third Sandler-starring vehicle.

Sandler, who will produce the new New Line comedy with Jack Giarraputo under their Happy Madison Prods. banner, has been slowly broadening his movie range beyond the highly successful madcap comedies like “Happy Gilmore” and “The Waterboy.”

The new comedy is designed to take him in the direction he has been headed toward with “The Wedding Singer” and “Big Daddy.” Sandler and New Line took the idea to Andrus, whose strength is writing multi-layered character comedies.

Turned out Andrus is a big Sandler fan and signed on. Andrus is repped by CAA. New Line exec veep of biz affairs David Alper negotiated on behalf of the studio.

LIVE TV ON THE COMEBACK: Just as George Clooney prepares to launch a star-studded remake of “Fail-Safe” to be performed live, Glenn Close has joined forces with “Murphy Brown” star Robert Pastorelli to hatch Father Lucky Prods., a company they’ve set up with HBO for the purpose of developing and producing a series of one-hour dramas to be performed live.

Close and Pastorelli met while acting together in the CBS telepic “The Ballad of Lucy Whipple,” which Close produced. They got to talking about the excitement of doing stage work, and thought of the live TV idea.

Close, of course, has an esteemed resume as a stage actress, including “Sunset Boulevard,” “Barnum” and “Death and the Maiden.” She also just took part in a performance of “The Vagina Monologues.”

Pastorelli, too, has an extensive stage resume, including Off Broadway perfs in “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest,” “Bus Stop” and “Death of a Salesman.”

Duo will co-exec produce the pieces and will start by commissioning four dramas, each ranging between 60 and 75 minutes. Pair will now approach writers from screen, stage, tube and novels to take up the challenge, and they will gather repertory-style teams of directors, actors, designers and technicians up for the challenge of doing live TV.

MORE HUGHES: Alan Ladd Jr. has tossed his hat into the sweepstakes to turn the life of billionaire aviator Howard Hughes into a feature film.

The field, which once included Warren Beatty and the Hughes Bros. directing Johnny Depp, recently narrowed to a film to be directed by Michael Mann and to star Leonardo DiCaprio at New Line, with New Regency also contemplating a feature.

And Mutual is developing a film based on “The Hoax,” the story of Clifford Irving writing a bogus Hughes autobio, for which he did time.

Ladd has optioned two books and the life story of Terry Moore, the last wife of Hughes. The books are “The Passions of Howard Hughes” and “The Beauty and the Billionaire.” Ladd has already heard from New Regency and will begin in earnest an attempt to set up a Hughes feature which he feels will dispel certain myths about the fabled figure.

Ladd met Moore through a mutual friend, and after verifying her story and credibility, feels there’s a strong enough story to sustain a feature.

“Much of what has been written about him was just false, “Ladd said. That includes assertions he was homosexual and that he’d grown long fingernails and toenailsin his later reclusive years.

“There are some wonderful anecdotes,” said Ladd, who just heard an audiotape that demonstrated Hughes’s homophobia. As for his other phobic activities, Ladd said they were hatched by Hughes’s mother. “He was deaf in one ear, which caused his shyness, and his mother had a major clean fetish. In fact, when he came over, he would have to wash his hands in lye, all kinds of awful stuff. But he never had those huge fingernails and toenails, that was just not true.”

More shocking are claims from Moore that her ex-husband’s death was caused by a group of former employees who drugged him and kept him shut away from the world. “He was kept a drugged, virtual prisoner — it’s just a horrible story,” said Ladd, who wants to use Moore’s story to tell a broader one that encompasses the positives of the man as well. “What I want to tell is the story of his true genius,” Ladd said.

“I’m not interested in his sleeping with Rita Hayworth, Ava Gardner, Katharine Hepburn. This would approach the genius of a man, while exposing the myths and truths, not the sexploitations.”

“FRINGE” BENEFIT: Kopelson Entertainment has bagged “Fringe Players,” a spec by newcomers Jonathan Segal and Todd Camhe about a bunch of casino hosts who compete in “whale hunting,” the art of bringing in high rollers to be comped and hopefully lured to lose vast sums of money in their casinos. The whale hunters provide air travel, first-class accommodations, anything the high rollers want. Kopelson Entertainment bought it for low- against mid-six figures. Segal previously did a short called “Ripple,” which was well received at Sundance, and Camhe is the son of veteran producer Beverly Camhe. Kopelson exec Sherryl Clark brought in the project. The scribes are managed by Larry Kennar, with Segal lawyered by Chris Tricarico and Camhe by Irwin Rappaport.

PILOTING: John Savage (“The Deer Hunter”) has signed on to play the heavy in the James Cameron-exec produced two- hour telepic “Dark Angel,” a backdoor pilot for Lightstorm TV. Savage has enjoyed a recent renaissance with “Thin Red Line,” “Message in a Bottle,” and “Summer of Sam.” This is his first TV role in 25 years, his last playing a cub reporter in the short-lived “Dibbsville.” He’s managed by Michael Wallach … Diane Farr, who has played a recurring role on “Roswell,” has landed the female lead opposite Denis Leary in an untitled pilot for DreamWorks and ABC. The pilot centers around a tough-talking Gotham street cop (Leary). Farr is the former co-host of the MTV show “Loveline,” who recently sold a book to Little, Brown called “The Girl Code,” a look at single women in the 21st century. She’s also starring in the HBO pic “Sacrifice.” Farr is repped by Evolution Entertainment’s Steven Fenton and agented by Mark Scroggs of Don Buchwald & Associates and lawyered by Todd Rubenstein and Kevin Morris … Anthony Anderson, an up and comer who just did “Romeo Must Die” and “Me, Myself & Irene,” has just been cast in the Tony Danza pilot “Homewood PI” for CBS. He recently did an arc of “Ally McBeal” and both Fox and WB are looking to get him in future features. He’s repped by Paul Young and E. Brian Dobbins of Polestar Management and his attorney is Richard Genow.

OSCAR DISHINGS: Until Sunday, there’s a house divided in Westchester County. Andy Mondshein is nominated for his editing work on “The Sixth Sense,” while his wife, Leslie Holleran, was a co-producer on “The Cider House Rules.” Between their films, 13 Oscar noms are at stake, including a best picture battle … Nice little backstory to the best docu Oscar race re: “Genghis Blues” star Paul Pena, the blind bluesman who traveled to the obscure Asian republic of Tuva to take part in a throat-singing competition. Pena has a ticket to the Oscars, but his health is failing from pancreatic cancer, a condition that had doctors not expecting him to live this long. Documakers Adrian and Roko Belic expect Pena to beat the odds and make his appearance.

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