Apatow expanding empire

'Knocked' producer lines up five '08 pics

If you think “Knocked Up” writer-director Judd Apatow is ubiquitous this summer, just wait until next year.

The comedy force behind the breakthrough comedy hit of the summer has five pics lined up for 2008, with four slated for the summer months, and countless more percolating in various stages of development. Early buzz on August’s “Superbad,” which Apatow produced for Columbia, has only fanned the studio feeding frenzy for him and his band of repertory players.

U has a deal with Apatow — and has distributed his most personal projects — but Columbia has more projects in production, having fallen hard for Apatow when he produced “Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby” for the studio. Its execs were all over U’s “Knocked Up” preem — Sony co-chair Amy Pascal stood in the middle of the Westwood theater as if planting a flag — and the studio unveiled casting of “Year One,” a Harold Ramis comedy that Apatow’s producing, at the tail end of “Knocked Up’s” opening weekend.

U, which is said to have given Apatow a bonus for “Knocked Up,” quickly claimed next May 30 for “Forgetting Sarah Marshall,” the same slot as “Knocked Up.”

Columbia has three projects arriving in theaters next summer: “Step Brothers” (July 25) and “The Pineapple Express” (Aug. 8) are slated, and “You Don’t Mess With the Zohan,” a comedy Apatow co-wrote with former roommate Adam Sandler, is expected a year from now.

Also in the wings: the studio’s “Walk Hard,” which Apatow wrote and directed, on Dec. 14, and “Drillbit Taylor,” an Owen Wilson starrer due March 21 from Paramount.

“I think Judd’s a guy whose time has come,” says Michael DeLuca, who oversaw “Anchorman,” Apatow’s first hit production, while at DreamWorks and worked with him earlier on “The Wedding Singer” as a New Line exec. “He’s a guy who’s white-hot right now, so it makes sense for studios to get as many of his projects in the works as possible and for him to get as many of this projects going as possible.”

DeLuca, for one, is not worried about Apatow stretching himself too thin.

“He’s a really good clutch player,” he says. “He comes through in a pinch.”

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