Butler saddling up as new ‘McCloud’ for USA

Thesp also to produce project, skein may air summer 2003

Brett Butler will star in a revival of “McCloud” for USA Network, as the basic cabler continues to mine the U library.

USA, which is part of Universal Television Group, just commissioned a wheel of “Kojak” movies with Ving Rhames in the lead role, as well as a back-door pilot of a new “Baretta,” which will be re-set from Los Angeles to Detroit (Daily Variety, Jan. 13).

“McCloud,” too, is getting turned on its ear. Originally, the cast was led by Dennis Weaver as a fish-out-of-water detective from rural New Mexico trying to navigate New York City. It aired on NBC in the 1970s.

“I told my mom that Margaret Cho is going to be Matlock next,” Butler told Daily Variety.

“There is part of me that’s really self-conscious about stepping into (Weaver’s) boots,” she added. “I loved that show. He made it possible to be a proletarian who is literate but still speaks with an accent.”

Butler had been developing a different show at USA Network with Dan Petrie Jr., who will write the new “McCloud.” That project would have seen the former “Grace Under Fire” star return to primetime as a single mom who’s a private investigator (Daily Variety, Sept. 26).

“McCloud” was in development simultaneously but Butler and Petrie, along with Butler’s manager, Evolution Entertainment’s Mark Burg (who also manages Petrie), moved on to the “McCloud” project instead. Former USA exec David Eick will serve as exec producer, along with Burg.

Butler also is repped by William Morris Agency.

“Each of these revivals needs its own fresh take,” Jackie Lyons, USA Network senior VP of original series programming, said. “We thought, what if it’s a woman — what if it’s the quintessential tough Southern woman? We had this deal with Brett, and it was perfect.”

“If they’re going to put me on a horse and give me a six-gun, why the hell not?” Butler said, adding that she looks at the project “like a redneck in a kabuki.”

“Brett is an incredibly creative powerhouse,” Lyons said. “She’s very funny, very creative, very collaborative. So her voice will be very important in this.”

Butler will serve as a producer on the project, which will be distributed by USA Cable Entertainment. It, like the other two revivals, could air as soon as summer 2003 — with, as Lyons put it, a lot of luck — or more likely in January or summer 2004.

Lyons pointed out that while the U library projects are an important part of the network’s development, it’s only a part. The hit series “Monk,” for example, was from original development. “Monk” also is one of the reasons Butler said she’s looking forward to working at USA.

“I’m tickled, because ‘Monk’ is great and they’re obviously very serious about doing good work,” she said.