‘N Sync heartthrob preps ‘Outer Space’ tuner

LANCE BASS, phone home.

The ‘N Sync crooner, who returned to Russia’s cosmonaut center this week to resume his bid to become the first showbiz space tourist, is planning another launch– on the bigscreen — as part of a mixed CGI and live-action space-travel musical.

Bass’ production shingle, A Happy Place, has optioned Gordon Korman’s kids book, “Nose Pickers From Outer Space,” for “Grease” director Randal Kleiser.

Book is part of a series of middle-grade novels about an alien who attempts to save earth from destruction by impersonating a dweeby fourth-grade exchange student.

Wendy Thorlakson, a partner at A Happy Place, said of Bass, “Hopefully, if we succeed at getting him to space and back safely, he’ll be in the film as one of the nose pickers” – an alien race that carries computers in their noses.

A Happy Place, producers of last year’s “On the Line,” which starred Bass and fellow ‘N Sync heartthrob Joey Fatone, recently signed a deal with Universal Press Syndicate to develop TV programs based on its comicstrips.

“Nosepickers” is being adapted by tyro screenwriter Ambrose Fey. Thorlakson will oversee the project with Joe Anderson, a partner at A Happy Place. Kleiser’s brother, Jeff, prexy of CGI house, Kleiser-Walczak, has been commissioned to provide the “Nose Pickers” f/x.

THE GORDON KORMAN business has recently sprouted several tentacles.

Thanks both to a resurgent international kids publishing market, and to Hollywood’s robust appetite for family fare, there’s keen interest in Korman’s backlist. Since Korman has written some 40 books, beginning with “This Can’t Be Happening At MacDonald Hall,” which he sold to Scholastic at age 12, managing those rights is akin to running a small publishing house.

On the Hollywood front, Lin Oliver Prods. — the shingle behind last year’s animated version of E.B. White’s “Trumpet of the Swan” from Sony — just optioned “Maxx Comedy, the Funniest Kid in America.” The book, due from Hyperion next year, is about a boy who wants to be a standup comic. Oliver says she plans to develop it as a half-hour comedy that she calls “Seinfeld for Kids.”

Also in development is the Island Trilogy, a series of Korman’s kids adventure books at Scholastic Entertainment, and “Son of the Mob,” a young adult novel about a straight-arrow kid trying to grapple with the family business, that producer Jane Startz is developing for Miramax.

Korman’s reps at Curtis Brown are also pushing his work across borders, selling lit rights to buyers in territories that have traditionally proved resistant to Korman’s brand of high-concept comedy. Korman’s first book series recently sold in China, and the adventure novels have sold in Greece, Japan and Italy. For the first time, the agency is shopping its children’s list at the Frankfurt Book Fair, which begins Oct. 9.

THE FRANKFURT BOOK FAIR was once an adult publishing fair, as kids publishers focused their foreign sales activities on the Bologna Children’s Book Fair each spring.

But recently, the lines have blurred.

The success of Harry Potter, Philip Pullman’s “His Dark Materials” trilogy, Garth Nix (whom Pullman has called “the next Philip Pullman”) and “Lemony Snicket,” has driven a new wave of publishing carpet-baggers into the kids market.

“A lot have the intention or fantasy of getting into the children’s field,” said Curtis Brown foreign rights agent Dave Barbor, who works alongside film agent Ed Wintle. “But it’s more difficult than they think.”

The immense popularity of Harry Potter et. al has nevertheless given these books greater cachet in Hollywood, and that in turn could drive book sales to new heights.

Producers have caught on that most of these authors have prodigious backlists ripe for exploitation in various dramatic media.

Several of Pullman’s backlist books are now wending their way to the stage and screen. The trilogy is being developed by Scholastic and New Line, and it’s also set to be staged in London by the Royal National Theater. Another book, “The Firework-Maker’s Daughter,” now set up at Miramax, will be staged by England’s Sheffield Crucible Theater. The BBC is also doing several Pullman adaptations.

There are plenty of adult writers (Elmore Leonard, Stephen King, etc.) who’ve seen their backlists plundered by Hollywood producers and foreign publishers.

But the horizons are often broader for kids books, said Nick Harris, Pullman’s agent at A.P. Watt. “Children’s material lends itself to a broad multimedia scenario,” he said. “You find you’re talking about film, stage, animation and computer games.”

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