Updike builds franchises; reality nets coin

JOHN UPDIKE IS WELL ON HIS WAY to becoming a franchise writer.

The novelist whose celebrated Rabbit tetralogy concluded with Rabbit Angstrom’s death in 1996’s “Rabbit at Rest” has just sold his latest novel, “Gertrude and Claudius,” to Entertainment Capital Group for a substantial six-against-seven-figure sum. Screenwriter Lorenzo Semple Jr. is attached to adapt the book. Plus, the musical stage adaptation of Updike’s “The Witches of Eastwick,” produced by Cameron Mackintosh, opened this summer to mixed reviews in London.

And in an unusual first serial deal, the New Yorker will publish an abridged version of Updike’s new addendum to the Rabbit series, a novella called “Rabbit Remembered” that’s part of a new Updike collection, “Licks of Love,” due out from Knopf in November. Appearing in two installments beginning with next week’s fall books issue of the New Yorker, the 26,000-word Rabbit novella revolves around the next generation of Angstroms. The piece will appear under the heading “Nelson and Annabelle.”

The option on “Gertrude and Claudius” launches the production and distribution slate of Entertainment Capital Group, a P&A funding and gap financing company, chaired by Tennessee Webb, with offices in Germany and Beverly Hills.

Like any Hollywood-friendly writer, Updike has long been a proponent of prequels and sequels. “Gertrude and Claudius” is a prequel to “Hamlet” that turns on the love triangle involving the Danish prince’s parents and uncle.

ECG’s veep for creative development is also a writer — Len Sherman, who penned “Big League, Big Time” (Pocket Books, 1998), about the Arizona Diamondbacks baseball team, as well as other works of fiction and nonfiction.

ECG will be developing other projects for TV and film in what Sherman hopes will be an environment especially hospitable to writers.

“In a big industry like Hollywood, when there are many other players involved, its easy to downgrade the writer,” he says. “But without the writer, all you have is the deal.”

Producing “Gertrude and Claudius” are Marcia Nasatir (“The Big Chill” and the forthcoming “Vertical Limit”), Columbia/TriStar TV producer Diane Sokolow (“Guests of the Emperor”) and Betsy Sokolow Sherman, who was a unit publicist on “You’ve Got Mail” and “Sleepless in Seattle.”

Updike is repped by Ken Sherman of Ken Sherman and Associates. Semple Jr., whose screenwriting credits include “The Parallax View” and “Three Days of the Condor,” is repped by Innovative Artists.

SEPTEMBER EDITORIAL MEETINGS at publishing houses across New York are awash with splashy submissions from agents hoping to land a big sell in the weeks before the Frankfurt Book Fair.

This year, editors have been clamoring for “narrative nonfiction,” that catch-all category encompassing true tales of science, travel, anthropology and adventure — everything from Dava Sobel’s “Longitude” to Jon Krakauer’s “Into Thin Air” and Sebastian Junger’s “The Perfect Storm.”

In a mid-six-figure deal, Christy Fletcher of Carlisle and Co., the agency that sold “Longitude,” has sold just such a book to the Free Press. “The World’s Measure” by Ken Alder, a tenured professor of history at Northwestern U., chronicles adventures of two scientists who set out, at the the time of the French Revolution, to define the meter — a unit of measurement one ten-millionth the distance from Pole to Equator.

Narrative nonfiction is nothing new. But with the increased popularity of reality programming and books like “The Perfect Storm” exhibiting remarkable crossover potential and legs in Hollywood, editors have come to see such books — what Fletcher calls “the little stories that tell the big stories” — as smart gambles, despite their often hefty price tags.

The Free Press will share the cost of “The World’s Measure” with sibling divisions Touchstone Paperbacks and S&S Audio.

Bruce Nichols is the acquisitions editor who brought “Measure” into Free Press. Brian Lipson at Endeavor will co-agent on the West Coast.

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