USA hot to trot for originals

'Confidence' series, 'Frankenstein,' 'Scarface' minis to come

On the eve of the NBC Universal merger, general entertainment cabler USA has unveiled an ambitious development slate of original scripted series and longform projects.

USA exec veep Jeff Wachtel said the net is aiming to get at least four original scripted dramas on TV — a feat that would put it on par with Lifetime, the basic cabler with the highest number of successful recurring hours.

Exec said USA is not yet in the market for half-hours but will step up its efforts in both reality and scripted arenas once NBC is officially able to bring its resources and marketing muscle to the table.

Wachtel said USA is in active development on the Lions Gate TV-produced weekly series “Confidence,” as well as on the first scripted effort from reality maven Bruce Nash. Latter centers on a fictitious world in which the South won the U.S. Civil War (Daily Variety, March 26).

Other new skeins in development include projects from “Monk” exec producer David Hoberman and Phillip Noyce (“Clear and Present Danger”).

‘Candles’ lit

On the longform front, Wachtel said the channel is close to giving greenlights to the planned miniseries “Scarface”; the event series “Frankenstein,” for a planned fourth-quarter premiere; and the original movie “36 Candles” (previously “32 Candles”), which reunites Sam, the Geek and the rest of the “Sixteen Candles” alumni (Daily Variety, Oct. 13).

Movies in the works fall into the categories of true crime and ripped-from-the-headlines fare.

“True American crime and provocative promotable events are the wheelhouse of our longform,” Wachtel said. Recent pics about Heidi Fleiss and Laci Peterson vaulted the channel to the top spot among basic cablers in overall viewers for the first quarter.

New telepics in the works include one from producer Stan Brooks (“Call Me: The Rise and Fall of Heidi Fleiss”), who recently received an order for four pics in the true-crime genre (Daily Variety, April 15).

Series stewing

Series in development:

  • “Johnny the Great,” from writer-exec producer Billy Finkelstein (“L.A. Law,” “Doogie Howser, M.D.”), focuses on a slick attorney who’s fending off a drug habit.

  • “Before the Fact,” based on the Brit Channel 5 format, centers on the real-life police unit that tracks violent repeat offenders after they are released from prison and before they commit their next crime. John Shiban (“The X-Files,” “Frankenstein”) and Simon Heath exec produce.

  • “The Mad, the Bad & the Innocent” focuses on a psychologist who’s balancing his own inner demons while having to treat others. Series is from Patrick Cirillo (“Tears of the Sun”), Noyce, Jeff Hayes and Greg Coote (“On the Beach”).

  • From Hoberman and Howard Franklin, the light one-hour “Edison” revolves around an undercover cop whose compulsive lying helps his career but hurts his home life. Touchstone TV will produce (Daily Variety, Oct. 7).

  • “Born & Made” is a one-hour chronicling the life of a young FBI agent simultaneously with that of his career criminal father 20 years prior. Project comes from Alfonso Moreno (“The Guardian,” “The Practice”).

  • “Curb Appeal,” from Cirillo, Gary Kurtz, Joseph Scotti and Chris Godfrey, is a behind-the-scenes take on a Beverly Hills real estate agency.

  • “Smoke & Mirrors” explores how jury selection is the primary factor in determining verdicts. From Lee Zlotoff (“Spitfire Grille”) and exec producers Raffaella De Laurentiis, Peter Saphier and Angela Mancuso.

Torn-from-headlines pix

Movies — all inspired by real-life events — include:

  • “Devil’s Knot,” about three teenagers accused of killing three young boys in a small town in Arkansas. Writer is Anna Hamilton Phelan; exec producers are Elizabeth Fowler and Ilene Kahn Power.

  • “Ring of Lies,” revolving around the woman who forced Vince McMahon’s World Wrestling Federation to settle in a multimillion-dollar lawsuit over the death of her husband, pro wrestler Owen Hart. T.S. Cook and Ron Hutchinson will pen the script; exec producers are Robert Cooper and Paul Kaufman.

  • “Amityville,” focusing on the murder and abuse at the Amityville, Long Island, “haunted house.” Writer is John Ireland; exec producers are Bernie Sofronsky and Holly Harter. Sony Pictures Television will produce.

  • “Peter Leonard Story,” concerning a clinically retarded man who goes on to fill a seat in the New Hampshire State Senate. Pic is from exec producers Stan Brooks and Paul Schiff; scribes are Mathew McDuffie and Susan Rhinehart. Alan Shapiro is onboard to direct.

  • “Freefall: Tragedy and Triumph on Mt. Hood,” recounting the rescue of nine hikers swept into a crevasse. Project comes from writer Stan Chervin, exec producers George Paige, John Cosgrove, Terry Meurer, Michael Jaffe and Howard Braunstein.

In addition, USA is developing the miniseries “Organized Medicine,” based on true events surrounding organized crime infiltrating the medical profession, from scribe John Gray and exec producers Ken Aguado and D.J. Caruso.

In other USA news, the remaining four episodes of “Touching Evil” are moving from Friday nights to Monday beginning tonight.