Bruce Almighty” marks the fourth time screenwriter Steve Oedekerk has worked with director Tom Shadyac and scored a hit. Eager for a high-five, Universal has staked Oedekerk to a two-year first look deal that starts with him redrafting “The Great Divide” for Shadyac to direct. The comedy’s about a full grown family which tries to heal wounds from past disastrous vacations by taking one final trip.

“As a writer, Steve is a terrific problem solver with great audience instincts, so we all wanted him at the studio,” said U production coprexy Scott Stuber, who with Mary Parent and Stacey Snider made the deal with WMA.

The ideas a Spielberg would dismiss as being too bizarre and difficult are the ones Oedekerk relishes. He makes a few million each time he scripts a comedy, but he’s proudest of his accomplishment on “Kung Pow: Enter the Fist,” for which he repurposed a chopsocky film and included himself as star.

Popular on Variety

“We needed 2,000 effects shots just to make it look like a piece of crap ’70s film, and when we passed ‘Star Wars: Episode One’ in total effects shots, we wondered what the hell we were doing,” said Oedekerk. “I have those thoughts often, when I’ve turned down a big movie job to do another thumb movie, for instance.”

He’s talking about his six movie parodies where the performers were all thumbs. Six are done, and he’s in the nascent stages on “Lord of the Thumb Rings,” “Thumbatrix,” and a pro grappling parody “WTW Thumb Wrestling.” Oedekerk also is responsible for the CGI animation creation “Jimmy Neutron: Boy Genius,” which he and director John Davis turned into a hit TV series (Nick has ordered another 60 episodes). And “Santa Vs. The Snowman,” a 3-D Imax film which put him several million in the hole but has broken even.

Oedekerk’s next CGI pic will be “The Barnyard,” a Paramount/Nickelodeon comedy he is writing. The first original project he’ll bring to Universal is “Ted of the Backroom,” a comedy he promised will be more insane than “Kung Pow.” He runs his divisions from headquarters in San Juan Capistrano, where he has two buildings and where he’ll house the seven creative execs he’ll hire under his U deal.

“When I was a standup comic, I tried to establish a balance where I had half the audience laughing hysterically, and the other half saying, ‘What the hell is this guy doing?’,” said Oedekerk. “I could make a lot more money taking big writing jobs, and leave behind the thumb projects and other things. It’d be easier but I don’t want 30 years to go by and just have a lot of money.”

GOTHAM RISES: Last year, several studios closed their Gotham offices and canned execs who sleuth for books and plays with film potential. But Paramount, the lone major studio to keep a big New York office, will soon have company. Dish hears that Fox is hiring veteran scout Drew Reed, who most recently worked for producer Wendy Finerman. DreamWorks is evaluating candidates for a New York office, and Warner Bros. has renewed interest in doing the same.

MORE HORSE TALES: After mining the best qualities of horse racing in “Seabiscuit,” Universal’s eyeing the seamy side. U-based producer Kevin Misher has optioned “Wild Ride,” an Ann Auerbach book on the death of Alydar, a prolific racing and stud horse which was the pride of Calumet Farms until it had to be destroyed because of a badly broken leg. There were suspicions the horse was killed for insurance money. Misher execs Savannah Neely brought it in and they’ve hired scribe Paul Bernbaum, who scripted “Truth, Justice and the American Way,” a Focus-based drama about the mysterious death of TV Superman George Reeves. Ross Greenberg, Jimmy Walsh and Kyle Morris are exec producers.