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ABC’s making hay with oater

Net set to produce pilot from 'Boomtown' producers

ABC has greenlit production on “Then Came Jones,” an unconventional hourlong Western from scribes Chris Brancato and Burt Salke (“Dope”).

Net has agreed to produce a pilot for the Touchstone Television project and ordered three additional scripts of the oater, which is being developed for midseason or fall 2003.

Brancato and Salke, who serve as co-exec producers of Graham Yost and Jon Avnet’s upcoming buzzworthy NBC drama “Boomtown,” created and wrote the pilot for “Jones” and will serve as exec producers of the series.

Project reps the third pilot in the past 14 months for the newly formed Brancato/Salke Prods. Duo also created the FX (and later) NBC pilot “Dope” and were called in on short notice to exec produce the ABC hourlong prototype for “EIS.”

In addition, Brancato and Salke are exec producers of the upcoming Imagine/Revolution feature laffer “Stealing Harvard.”

As for “Jones,” pilot begins in the last three days of 1899 and is set in the border town of El Paso, Texas, where the 20th century is rapidly bringing to an end the ways of the Old West. Skein’s main character is Ben Jones, the town’s kingpin of sin.

“He’s a morally ambiguous hero who controls the Tenderloin district of El Paso and finds himself thrust into the position of taking over law enforcement for the town,” Brancato told Daily Variety. “The show will look at how technology and other changes are bringing on the death of cowboy culture.”

Skein will focus on modern problems and issues as seen through the prism of 1899.

“Our logline for the show has sort of been, ‘This is not your grandfather’s Western,’ ” Salke said.

Modern machines

In fact, the pilot episode will feature such 20th century touchstones as the automobile and an early version of the machine gun.

Project has been in development at ABC and Touchstone for nearly a year and was originally intended for this fall. Indeed, Alphabet execs passed on an early draft of the pilot — even though the net actually pitched the two scribes on the idea of doing a Western.

ABC reconsidered its decision after Brancato and Salke decided to change a few plot points in the first episodes.

“We were dead and gone last January, and we just got resurrected,” Brancato said, crediting ABC drama chief Tom Sherman and Touchstone topper Steve McPherson for helping revive “Jones.”

“It was their passion for the show that got it into production,” he said.

McPherson said he was “excited and surprised” at ABC’s pickup, given that it comes as the net is focusing on launching its fall shows.

“It was really exciting to see how enthusiastic the network was about this,” he said. “Taking a Western and turning it on its head is something we’ve been trying to do for some time, and (Brancato and Salke) really have come up with a great way to do that.”

ABC drama chief Thom Sherman said the net was drawn to the project’s unconventional concept.

“Alot of us have been trying to come up with what’s not on TV at the moment,” Sherman said. “And one of the logical answers is there hasn’t been a western on for a long time. It sparked something in all of us. The show is funny, it’s got action and the stories are very contemporary.”

Sherman said he had made it a “mission” of his to place Brancato and Salke on one of ABC’s skeins as showrunners before the duo ultimately went to “Boomtown.”

“I was disappointed that we couldn’t get into business with them at the start of this season but it probably worked for the best,” said Sherman, noting that the net probably couldn’t have pulled the duo off one of its own shows to oversee “Jones.”

“Fate interved,” he said.

‘Boomtown’ buzz

As Brancato and Salke begin casting and producing the pilot for “Jones,” duo will remain co-exec producers of “Boomtown,” one of the few new dramas generating buzz this fall. Salke said the collaborative nature of his relationship with Brancato will allow the duo to work on two projects simultaneously.

“We really care about ‘Boomtown’ a lot,” Salke said.

Scribes also continue to develop a still-in-the-works project for NBC, which made a premium script deal with Brancato and Salke when they came on board “Boomtown.”

Brancato and Salke’s other credits include 66 episodes of Sci Fi Channel’s “First Wave.” Brancato’s feature credits include “Hoodlum” and “Species 2”; Salke is a former film and TV exec. Duo are repped by Chris Harbert of CAA; the pilot was packaged by UTA.