×

FORMER L.A. LAKERS superstar Earvin “Magic” Johnson is teaming with “Hoop Dreams” co-director Steve James on the reality series “Making the Team.”

A group of talented ballplayers will be recruited for the proposed hourlong weekly series. The players, whose dreams of playing for college teams fell through due to family or personal hardship, will compete at a camp to be part of an elite squad of nine. The selection process will be overseen by Johnson, who’ll coach the team as it prepares to square off against one of the country’s top high school squads.

“It’s ‘Survivor’ with a purpose, taking kids who have talent and changing their lives,” said John Davis, who’ll exec produce the series through his Davis Television banner, which has a first-look deal at Columbia TriStar, the studio that will shop the series packaged by Writers & Artists.

The players who make Johnson’s final squad will get full four-year college scholarships, and the exposure may help get them on a good collegiate team. Contestants who don’t make the cut also will get some kind of tuition assistance. The studio is working with the NCAA to ensure that taking part in the drama doesn’t ruin players’ eligibility. The plan is to put the series up for a jump ball to the networks shortly. If one commits, “Making the Team” will be on the air as early as this fall.

James, who with two cohorts painstakingly chronicled the attempt of two inner-city high schoolers to make it to the pros in the 1994 docu “Hoop Dreams,” said the backstories that were so absorbing in that film also will dominate “Making the Team,” whose episodes he’ll direct and exec produce with Davis.

“The idea is to show the dramatically interesting and revealing elements of human nature of kids, of former ballplayers who thought their dreams were washed up,” James said. “The series has to be both dramatic and compelling, and true without being exploitative. The goal is to get the audience involved in caring about the kids in the camp. When one succeeds, you’re there with them. When one you’ve become involved with fails, it touches you as well. That means getting to know these kids, who they are, what they want and why they’ve failed up till now. That’s the key to the series.”

The clincher, he said, was landing Johnson, who before he became an entrepreneur personified team play. That unselfish philosophy will rule the selection process to be overseen by Johnson, with team players likely to be chosen over more talented ballhogs.

Davis TV prexy Paul Spadone, who put the show together with Col TriStar senior veep Steve Tann, said the challenge will be to entertain with a format that couldn’t be more different from rivals such as “Survivor” or “Temptation Island,” formats that seem to reward scheming and ruthlessness.

Johnson’s deal is almost done.

WOODS LANDS AT NEW LINE:Whether it’s producers, management companies or even major agencies, everybody is searching for fresh financing. That’s a dilemma facing “Scream” producer Cary Woods, who’s temporarily amending the spirit, if not the name, of his Independent Pictures. Woods hatched the company several years ago based on the idea that he’d produce and finance films with an independent spirit, pics to be distributed by New Line or Fine Line. But some $30 million he’d counted on from an India-based backer has fallen through, leading to rumors that Woods will fold his shingle. He vigorously denies this. Instead, Woods, who with Gina Mingacci has assembled a lineup of good scripts, will retreat temporarily to a first-look deal with New Line as he continues the never-ending quest to raise funds.

Among the plum projects Woods and Mingacci have ready to shoot are the “Liberace” biopic scripted by Aaron Seltzer and Jason Friedberg, which has “Quills” helmer Philip Kaufman attached; the spoof “Raunchy Movie,” by “Scary Movie” scribes Seltzer and Friedberg; the Nate Goodman-directed “Dorian Gray,” which “Election” helmer Alexander Payne will direct; and “The Assassination of Richard Nixon,” which has Sean Penn attached to star and Niells Mueller writing and directing. There are also projects with “Kids” scripter Harmony Korine. “We’re regrouping,” Woods said. “I like our projects and the filmmakers we are in business with, and I’m grateful to New Line for offering us shelter in the storm. As a producer, I’ve been raising money my whole life, so I’m not concerned.”

SCHIFF-TING TO PICTURES:Emmy-winning “The West Wing” co-star Richard Schiff seems in perpetual motion on the show, and he’s replicating that pace in real life. Schiff, who plays White House communications director Toby Ziegler, has taken a starring role in “Sam I Am,” the Jessie Nelson-directed drama for New Line that stars Sean Penn and Michelle Pfeiffer. Schiff plays a prosecuting attorney seeking to take custody of a daughter away from a mentally disabled man (Penn). At the same time, he’ll play a Wall Street hotshot alongside Al Pacino in “People I Know,” the Dan Algrant-directed drama shooting in Gotham with Tea Leoni and Kim Basinger. Schiff’s reps at Paradigm and Leverage also are working to book him into a pic for the “West Wing” hiatus, which begins in late April.

GRIFFIN OFFERS “SOLACE”:After reconfiguring the Rat Pack caper pic “Ocean’s Eleven,” scripter Ted Griffin’s as hot as a pistol. As he works on a project with “Wonder Boys” helmer Curtis Hanson, Griffin has sold his script “Solace,” co-written with Sean Bailey, to Bandeira and Key Entertainment. New York-set project is akin to “Seven.”

The film will be produced by Beau Flynn and Matthias Emcke, with Tripp Vinson, who found the project, co-producing. Bailey works with “Good Will Hunting” producer Chris Moore, who’ll exec produce with Bailey and Thomas Augsberger. Bandeira already is looking for a director.

Company, which hatched with the idea of getting partial financing from German financier Key Entertainment, is off and running. With “Tigerland” and “Requiem for a Dream” under its belt, Bandeira just completed principal photography on “Till Human Voices Wake Us,” the Michael Petroni-directed pic that stars Guy Pearce and Helena Bonham-Carter, and it’s in post on the MGM comedy “Bubble Boy.” Company’s got Ben Stiller attached to star in the DreamWorks comedy “Date School,” which Adam Resnick is rewriting, and “Cliff Notes,” the comedy Eric Champnella wrote and will direct.

FALSITIES:A spokesman for Sigourney Weaver is denying widespread reports that the actress is booked to get $22 million to star in yet another installment of “Alien,” this one set on Earth. The problem? There is no next “Alien” movie, and her quotes came from an old junket interview, she said. Also a tall tale is the oft-reported assertion that Kevin Spacey is booked to play the villain in the next James Bond pic. There hasn’t even been a discussion, according to people close to the film and also those close to Spacey.