‘Terror’ tactics at NBC

“Law & Order” creator Dick Wolf is ready to begin production on “Terror,” the five-hour miniseries that will meld the casts of all three “Law & Order” series and air as a two-hour Sunday night movie, then one-hour installments the following three days during the May sweeps (Daily Variety, March 20).

“Terror” was made because Wolf feels passionate about preparing for the possibility of the cataclysmic event of bioterrorism, and it was made possible because Wolf prepared so well for the then-seemingly cataclysmic Hollywood labor strife. Wolf over-produced last season, stockpiling enough episodes of the three series to make the miniseries possible. “When we finished, we’d completed the initial fall order of 13 episodes of ‘Criminal Intent,’ we had nine ‘Law & Order’ episodes, and we had the first 10 episodes of ‘SVU,” Wolf said.

“Normally, we’d have been at work five or six weeks ago, but we’re not going to be back until November. Some of our producers have been working 15 months straight to pull this off. It has been like being an air traffic controller in a hurricane when the radar goes down. The logistics are kind of like the Normandy invasion, just brutal.”

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The Normandy logistics are all “Terror” has in common with HBO’s “Band of Brothers,” the $125 million 10-part mini; Wolf said the budget OK’d by Studios USA was much lower. “We didn’t get half as much as ‘Band of Brothers,’ but this is expensive,” Wolf said. “The most important thing is that it is not a stunt. When Steve White at NBC asked if we were interested, the only story I could think of that justified five hours is terrorism, which we meticulously researched for nine months. Any superpower is vulnerable here, particularly with bioterrorism. If a country launches a bomb, it’s like sending an email with a return address, but in bioterrorism, it takes two or three weeks before you know you’re sick and it is easy to get away with. Hopefully, this will get people thinking about that.”

The story was hatched by Wolf and Neal Baer, with several of the show’s staffers writing segments, including former “Law & Order” showrunner Michael Chernuchin. The drama tracks a series of terrorist attacks in New York City, with clues leading to the discovery of a bioterrorist release of anthrax and culminating in the threat of release of smallpox. The storyline gave Wolf the chance to seamlessly merge the casts of all three shows. All of the stars negotiated deals separate from their per-episode paychecks. Depending on screen time, some will be paid six-figure salaries, sources said. Wolf said the subject matter, more than money, coaxed back casts that were overworked by the time they took summer hiatus.

“It was a long and protracted negotiation to get all the principals to cut into their vacation time,” Wolf said. “I think they recognized the importance of the subject matter, that was the most important thing. We’ve spoken to top law enforcement people on the state, federal and local levels, and each are saying it’s not a question this bioterrorism threat could happen, but when.”

It also gives Wolf the chance to test-run the idea of cross-pollinating the three weekly hours of “Law & Order” programming more freely, which he considers “the great potential for branded series like these.”

BROWN BOOKS BUCHANAN: Paramount has ponied up six-figures to give movie treatment to “You Only Die Twice,” the new novel by former Miami crime reporter Edna Buchanan. Manhattan Project’s David Brown and Kit Golden will produce the film, which provides a template for a strong female starring vehicle, and fits the Par mold for affordable pulp thrillers, as it is reminiscent of the Par hit “Double Jeopardy.” “You Only Die Twice” tells the story of newspaper crime reporter Britt Montero, who, happens upon the story of a dead woman who washes ashore and who has apparently been murdered twice. The woman’s husband sits on death row for her murder, and the reporter tries to figure out what the woman has been doing the decade since faking her death, and who actually did the deed. Brown and Golden, who are coming off the hit “Chocolat,” have made their second significant recent book buy, after buying screen rights to the Leif Enger novel “Peace Like A River,” the story of a family’s search for a son accused of murder. The first novel, just published by Grove Atlantic, has become a critically acclaimed bestseller, and the producers are close to landing a scribe to adapt it. They are also zeroing in on a director to develop the Buchanan novel, a book repped by Endeavor and lit agent Michael Congdon.

GILLIAM PRIMES PYTHON PUMP: The town is buzzing over “Good Omen,” a script penned by Terry Gilliam, who’s eyeing a March start date for the story of an epic battle between two angels for the soul of mankind. While this sounds like the “Brazil” territory Gilliam has visited in the past, it’s said to be closer to “Time Bandits” or even “Monty Python and the Holy Grail” because of its inspired lunacy as the angels struggle over a couple whose ancestries hold the key to a possible apocalypse.

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