ABC on ‘Dragnet’ beat

Wolf in the process of writing the script

ABC has wrapped up a deal for uberproducer Dick Wolf’s new take on “Dragnet,” ordering 13 episodes of the project for a January launch.

Deal for the skein came together in near-record time, with just a few weeks passing between Wolf signing on to the Universal Television project and ABC landing the rights to air it (Daily Variety, April 25).

Wolf is still in the process of writing the script; production via U and Wolf Films will likely begin in Los Angeles by early September.

No timeslot has been finalized, but all expectations are that ABC will slot the new “Dragnet” Mondays at 9 p.m. or 10 p.m., with a new installment of spring reality sensation “The Bachelor” serving as a lead-in. Alphabet will also extensively tease the skein during its “Monday Night Football” franchise.

ABC will shell out north of $1.4 million per episode for “Dragnet.” In addition, Universal is likely to take a second cable window for the skein on sister cabler USA Network; skein was dubbed inappropriate for Disney cabler ABC Family.

ABC pounced

While other nets — including NBC, which aired the original series — had expressed interest in the new “Dragnet,” Alphabet execs were easily the most aggressive, pouncing on the concept as soon as they heard it.

Project is expected to be the centerpiece of an already-strong ABC 2003 midseason lineup that will likely include the Stephen King limited series “The Hospital” and a weekly version of the net’s upcoming “Dinotopia” mini. Wolf will be in New York next week when ABC officially announces its new schedule.

“It goes without saying that Dick Wolf is one of the most talented and successful writer-producers in television today,” ABC Entertainment prexy Susan Lyne said in a statement. “Dick’s ideas for a new ‘Dragnet’ excited us from the moment we heard them, and the opportunity to work with him has made this a very happy day at ABC.”

Wolf — whose reps at UTA put together the package for “Dragnet” — said his take on the Jack Webb franchise won’t be a simple remake but instead will serve as a “reconceptualization” of the landmark cop drama.

“Hopefully, this will be as much of a new show as the feature version of ‘The Fugitive’ was to the original series,” Wolf told Daily Variety.

New style, tone

Basic premise of the skein — two cops working the streets of Los Angeles — will remain. Wolf said he’s not sure yet if he’ll use familiar character names such as Joe Friday. Style and tone of the series will be radically different from those of the original 1950s series.

“It’s going to be a millennium treatment of a cop show,” Wolf said.

Wolf said tackling “Dragnet” does have some “truly terrifying” aspects. “This is a show that you don’t want to blow,” he said. “It’s arguably the most famous cop show ever made.”

The upside for Wolf — and a major reason for committing to the series — is the chance to reintroduce a major brand to viewers.

“If we do it right, it’s a chance to establish another franchise, which is something I wasn’t sure I could ever do after ‘Law & Order,’ ” Wolf said.

Indeed, in success, Wolf sees the new “Dragnet” spinning off companion skeins much the way “L&O” has spawned “Special Victims Unit” and “Criminal Intent.”

Peacock ties still strong

While Wolf has developed shows for many nets, he’s been most closely associated with NBC. That relationship remains as strong as ever, he said; but with ABC hungry for hits, it became a much more logical home for “Dragnet.”

“Susan (Lyne) hasn’t been homogenized by the job yet; she still has great passion,” Wolf said. “And they really got behind this. It makes you feel terrific when a network really wants something.”

Universal Television Production Group prexy David Kissinger agreed, saying ABC had “been both dogged and passionate” in its pursuit of “Dragnet.”

Kissinger also has great confidence in Wolf’s ability to reinvent the “Dragnet” franchise.

“This project marries one of TV’s most talented producers to a great Universal property that couldn’t be more completely in his wheelhouse,” he said.

Wolf could have as many as five shows on the air next year. In addition to “Dragnet” and the three “Law & Order” series, he’s also producing “Crime & Punishment,” a reality drama bowing this summer that’s already generating strong buzz. A second season of “C&P” could be ready for NBC’s midseason sked.