New Fox Entertainment prexy Kevin Reilly has greenlit his first project at the network — and is turning to an old friend to oversee it.
Fox has given a series commitment — with hefty seven-figure penalty — to “The Oaks,” a relationship drama with supernatural elements from scribe David Schulner (“Tell Me You Love Me”) and 20th Century Fox TV.
Reilly and Fox Entertainment chairman president Peter Liguori have recruited Shawn Ryan to be showrunner of “The Oaks”; Ryan created the FX hit “The Shield” back when Reilly and Liguori were top execs at the cabler. Ryan and Schulner will exec produce with Little Engine Entertainment’s Gina Matthews and Grant Scharbo. Michael Cuesta (“Dexter”) is expected to direct the pilot and exec produce as well.
“The Oaks” follows the stories of three different couples who inhabit the same house at three different times: 1967, 1987 and 2007. They’re all connected, however, by mysterious spirits that appear to haunt the house.
“This script by David Schulner knocked me out,” Reilly said. “Actually, it knocked a lot of people out around town, which is why it was the subject of a pretty aggressive bidding situation. It’s a fast read, a classic relationship drama with a big creepy twist underneath. And the writing is clean as a whistle.”
Schulner’s head is still spinning from the events of the past week. He first showed the script less than 10 days ago to Little Engine’s Matthews and Scharbo, who in turn passed it along to 20th Century Fox TV’s drama development execs Jennifer Nicholson Salke and Patrick Moran.
Nicholson Salke and Moran quickly expressed interest; at the same time, the script made its way around town — with ABC, CBS and Fox all aggressively making a play for it. ABC and CBS attached big-name exec producers to the project.
But then came Reilly, who won the battle by calling up Ryan. The “Shield” exec producer immediately jumped at the chance to work on the script.
“Shawn’s not only an A-plus showrunner, but he’s also the kind of guy who nurtures other talent,” said Reilly. The exec noted that Schulner is in the same position now that Ryan was when “The Shield” was made: He’s a scribe with a hot spec script but little showrunning experience.
Impressed by Reilly’s move to package the project with Ryan, Schulner signed on with Fox.
“I am fortunate enough that not only is (Ryan) going to exec produce the show and be the showrunner, but he’s really going to mentor me the way he once was,” Schulner said. “My contract was signed on Wednesday, and now we’re already in casting.” “The Oaks” pilot is expected to be shot in November; the studio is already recruiting additional writers to work on future episodes.
Project is also moving forward quickly because of ongoing fears of a strike. Fox would have bought the project regardless, insiders said, but the accelerated time table is designed to have assets in the net’s arsenal in case of a future work stoppage.
“Without Peter Liguori and Kevin Reilly, this would have never happened,” Schulner said. “Kevin had the vision and Peter made it happen.”
Schulner, who began his career as a playwright, cut his chops on the Herskovitz/Zwick drama “Once and Again.” His credits also include “Everwood” and “Desperate Housewives.”