Rhames reinvents Kojak

'Envy' star to fill Savalas' shoes

Who loves ya baby?

That’s what Ving Rhames will soon be saying, as star of a potential wheel of “Kojak” movies for USA Network.

Rhames has agreed to take the title role, Lt. Theo Kojak, in a re-envisioning of the classic police drama. The movies are to be distributed by USA’s sister Vivendi Universal company, USA Cable Entertainment.

The late Telly Savalas originated the lollipop-sucking crime fighter role in the TV series, which last aired on ABC in 1990 but spent the majority of its run on CBS, where it debuted in 1973.

“Ving is such a versatile actor, with a powerful presence and unique persona, so it seemed like a great marriage,” Jeff Wachtel, exec VP of series and longform programming for USA Network, told Daily Variety. “Telly Savalas is so closely identified with the role, we needed someone this unique and powerful.”

Rhames, who is repped by CAA and managed by Peter Safran at Brillstein-Grey, just completed a multi-episode arc of “The District,” which Universal Network produces with CBS Prods. He stars in upcoming Barry Levinson film “Envy” for DreamWorks, as well as Ron Shelton’s “Dark Blue” for MGM.

Rhames earned a Golden Globe Award for his portrayal of Don King in HBO’s “Don King: Only in America” and was widely recognized for his role in “Pulp Fiction.”

Wachtel said that deals with both a top writer and director are in the works for the project, which will start out as a two-hour telepic, with an option to do a series of movies.

“What’s interesting about classic titles is they often attract unexpected fans,” Wachtel said, “including people who might not normally think about doing television.”

Deal is representative of USA’s effort to pursue contemporary takes on classic franchises, such as its hit drama series “The Dead Zone,” and “Kojak” is one of a number of Universal properties that USA has been mulling.

“It’s another example of a project that has the familiar entry point,” Wachtel said. “Most people have heard of ‘Kojak’ — so it’s a great brand that we can reinvent and bring something contemporary and special to, to take it to the next level.”