Peacock’s recipe: Stir Rice for 12 hours

'Witching' series' budget could hit $50 mil

NBC has fallen under the spell of Anne Rice.

Peacock is developing the scribe’s gothic trilogy “The Witching Hour” as a 12-hour limited series to be produced by the Wolper Organization and Warner Bros. TV. Likely budgeted at $40 million-$50 million, project will rep the network’s most significant longform time commitment since 1980’s “Shogun.”

In addition, NBC has greenlit production on “1st to Die,” a three-hour mini adaptation of the bestselling mystery novel from James Patterson (“Kiss the Girls”). NBC Studios and Michael O’Hara Prods. are producing.

Both packages were put together by CAA, which reps Rice, Patterson and several others involved in the projects. Rice is also repped by the Janklow-Nesbit Agency.

Commitments are the strongest evidence yet that NBC isn’t totally abandoning longform, despite what some observers had figured after the net gave up its weekly movie franchise and significantly cut back on development.

“Contrary to popular belief, we’re not out of the movie business,” said Jeff Gaspin, NBC’s exec VP of alternative/longform/program strategy. “We got out of the movie-of-the-week business, and it took us some time to redevelop our movie strategy.”

Wilder will write

As for “The Witching Hour,” John Wilder (“Feast of All Saints,” “Return to Lonesome Dove”) has been signed to adapt Rice’s three early-1990s novels. Mark Wolper, Rice and Wilder will serve as exec producers.

“Witching Hour” tells the saga of the Mayfair Witches, a fictional New Orleans family with a rich history of supernatural freakiness. Trilogy consists of “The Witching Hour,” “Lasher” and “Taltos.”

“I’m thrilled to be working with NBC, Mark Wolper and John Wilder to bring this story to television in this way,” Rice said in a statement. “A 12-hour limited series is the only way to properly tell this story, and I’m certain my readers will agree.”

Peacock won’t formally give the go-ahead to the project until it sees several hours of the script, but it’s unlikely the net would snag the TV rights to the project if it didn’t intend to produce it. Project is being targeted for the 2003-04 season.

Saving money and time

Gaspin said developing the three “Witching Hour” novels together as one 12-hour project will both save money and allow for maximum scheduling flexibility.

It’s not the only megaseries in the works from a famous author: ABC plans to air the 15-hour Stephen King limited series “The Hospital” next season.

NBC may choose to air the “Witching” trilogy as three four-hour miniseries — perhaps spreading them out during the November, February and May sweeps of the 2003-04 season. Gaspin said this approach would mirror the way “The Lord of the Rings” features are being rolled out.

Alternatively, NBC may air the 12 hours as a weekly series or over the course of one or two weeks.

All the alchemy

Gaspin said “Witching Hour” has all the elements NBC is looking for these days in longform: “Supernatural has worked incredibly well on TV recently, and this fits right into our strategy of presold, recognizable pop culture titles.”

Exec also is high on “1st to Die,” which will go into production soon for air sometime during the 2002-03 season. Emmy-nominated O’Hara (“Switched at Birth”) is penning the script; he’ll exec produce with former NBC movies topper Steve White.

Mini revolves around a femme homicide detective who teams up with three other female professionals to form a secret “Women’s Murder Club” that investigates the serial killings of newlyweds. Patterson’s book has already spawned a sequel, which means NBC could eventually turn the novels into a franchise.

Patterson franchise

“James Patterson is a brand unto himself,” Gaspin said, noting the success his novels have had as feature pics.

While NBC will air a three-hour mini of “1st to Die,” net plans to actually produce a four-hour project. Additional footage will be packaged with what airs on NBC, allowing a cabler to air a four-hour mini.

Other Peacock longform projects in the works for next season include a new adaptation of “Carrie,” a possible “Lost in Space” remake and a Rudy Giuliani biopic.