USA nabs Greg Berlanti’s ‘Political Animals’

Cabler orders six-hour miniseries about femme pol

Greg Berlanti’s hot streak has spread to cable.

The multihyphenate, who is already juggling four pilot pickups, has landed a big order from USA Network for a six-hour miniseries revolving around a Hillary Rodham Clinton-like figure.

“Political Animals” will be produced by Warner Horizon Television, marking the first time the banner has produced a series for USA.

Laurence Mark exec produces with Berlanti. Melissa Kellner Berman, prexy of Berlanti Prods., will serve as co-exec producer. Mark (“Dreamgirls,” “Julie and Julia”) and Berlanti have worked together on past projects.

Though the project was formulated as a mini, USA Network co-presidents Jeff Wachtel and Chris McCumber have grander plans. If enough viewers tune in during the initial run, the cabler is planning on morphing “Political Animals” into a full-fledged series. Net used that strategy five years ago with Debra Messing starrer “The Starter Wife.”

“We’re going to make it a big event for this summer,” McCumber said, “and then turn it into 10 episodes.”

Berlanti wrote and will direct the first episode. Series revolves around a former first lady who has become secretary of state and, while dealing with her own work issues, is struggling to keep her family together after leaving the White House.

Berlanti told Variety he wrote the first hour of “Animals” on spec last summer as a way to indulge his interest in politics (he was an history minor in college) and family dynamics. He wrote it specifically with cable in mind .

“More and more the straight character shows without procedural elements are going to cable, and that audience is going there too,” Berlanti said. “Having done a lot of straight network dramas, I’ve felt handcuffed by certain things that they demand. I wanted to see what would happen if I wrote something where I wasn’t as handcuffed.”

USA is admittedly taking a chance by not ordering a pilot and, instead, gave “Political Animals” a full six-episode order based on their enthusiasm for Berlanti’s spec script. Wachtel said that it was a gamble worth taking.

“That’s part of the excitement and part of the risk,” Wachtel told Variety . “It was a great piece of material, and what we could offer to Greg was the speed in getting this up and out. If we were to make a pilot, it would have taken too long.”

Wachtel had long sought to be in biz with Berlanti. The two worked together nearly 15 years ago when Berlanti was first making his mark as a writer-producer on the WB’s “Dawson’s Creek” and Wachtel was a creative exec at “Dawson’s” producer Columbia TriStar TV.

“We’ve been chasing Greg for years. We can’t think of a better partner to be working with as we expand the storytelling reach of the network,” Wachtel said.

“When he came in and pitched us the project,” McCumber said, “we could tell he had a real passion for the story that the American family is broken.”

Berlanti has a history of launching series through spec scripts. The WB’s “Everwood,” his first created-by credit, started as a spec, as did his ABC drama “Eli Stone.”

Berlanti Prods. is on a tear this pilot season after ending its long tenure at ABC with the demise of “Brothers and Sisters” last season.

Berlanti relocated to Warner Bros. TV last year. He’s also been busy on the feature side of the studio, helming the 2010 romantic drama “Life as We Know It” and shepherding “Green Lantern” as writer and producer.

Berlanti Prods. just moved to larger office space on the Warner Bros. lot to handle the surge of production activity. In addition to “Political Animals,” the shingle is fielding three drama pilots (CBS’ “Golden Boy,” Fox’s “Guilty” and CW’s “Arrow”) plus an untitled CBS comedy pilot that Berlanti co-wrote with “Friends” alum Greg Malins.

Both Wachtel and McCumber were undaunted about Berlanti’s extremely busy pilot slate.

Berlanti is in the throes of casting “Animals” and the other pilots. But production on “Animals” won’t begin until after the bulk of the lensing on the network pilots is completed. He’s counting on the strength of the writers he’s working with (including Marc Guggenheim, Andrew Kreisberg and Nicholas Wootton) to allow Berlanti Prods. to manage so many projects at once.

“There’s no writer that we’re working with who couldn’t have done (a pilot script) without us,” Berlanti said. “We’re really blessed to be in business with great people. And when you’re working on (multiple) projects one thing kind of feeds the other. It’s helpful in casting when you’re seeing a lot of people and you say ‘Oh they’re not right for this but they’d be great for this.’ The real key is having great partners.”

Berlanti’s repped by WME and attorney Patti Felker.