December 11, 2013 8:00am PT by Lesley Goldberg
ABC Preps Stephen King Series as Boutique Division Ramps Up (Exclusive)
A version of this story appeared in the Dec. 20 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine.
A year after launching new boutique arm Signature, the ABC Studios-based division is setting up shop all over town. The Tracy Underwood-fronted banner has projects in development at A&E, WE tv, TBS and has a potential straight-to-series Stephen King short-story adaptation in the works at ABC.
The division, which Underwood was tapped to run in October 2012, focuses on selling to cable and emerging platforms for off-cycle and lower-cost programming. Signature's first project, Eliza Coupe comedy Benched, landed at USA Network with a pilot presentation order in October and has already completed shooting.
The boutique unit will develop year-round in a bid to find riskier types of shows with characters that Underwood says feel "noiser" in an effort to match the programming with the right outlet -- a stark contrast to ABC Studios, which rarely sells to networks outside its Disney-owned mothership.
"Every network in both broadcast and cable is looking for their own unique version of noisy and provocative that fits their brand. So my job is to innately understand that and find the right home depending on each project," Underwood tells THR.
In addition to Benched, the banner has five new projects in the works, including Corridors, a hot spec script that landed at Signature following a multiple-studio bidding war. Signature plans to package the Fernley Phillips (Number 23) supernatural thriller before shopping the project about the mysteries of life after death to cable.
"Our intention was twofold: One, to be working at all different price points and to try to deliver programming to ABC network that could be done at a different price. So if there was a straight-to-series order that might be targeted for summer, that was something we endeavored to do with Tracy and Signature," said ABC Studios exec vp Patrick Moran, to whom Underwood reports. "And second, to afford our producers and show creators the opportunity to find other outlets. So when we're hearing ideas that might not be right for the network or producers that wanted to focus on cable, we can now offer them the opportunity to find the right home for the right material."
To that end, Signature is readying Grand Central, a potential straight-to-series order for summer 2014 from Haven writers Sam Ernst and Jim Dunn. The drama is based on King's short story The New York Times at Special Bargain Rates and described as a character-driven procedural with a supernatural twist. The short, published in 2008 and collected in King's Just After Sunset, centers on a widow who answers a phone call from her husband who died two days earlier in a plane crash. The husband predicts two tragedies that later come true and helps his wife avoid death.
Additionally, Signature has psychological horror story/soap Strega in the works at A&E with writer Joe Gangemi (Eliza Graves) via the Gotham Group as well as multicamera sibling comedy Borne to be Wilde from exec producers Courteney Cox and David Arquette in the works.
Signature comes as ABC Studios has made a point to sell to outside networks. The studio has former ABC comedy Cougar Town at TBS, Devious Maids at Lifetime, CBS' upcoming midseason drama Intelligence and has the Signature-developed summer soap Mistresses, the latter of which will return for a second season next year on ABC. After shopping the remainder of ABC's pilot crop to no success, Signature will look to repurpose projects that may be a fit elsewhere following the success of Marc Cherry's Devious Maids, which landed at the female-skewing cable network after ABC passed on the pilot two years ago.
Signature has also found a new home for Suburban Shootout, a remake of the British format first developed by HBO in 2008 and by ABC in 2011. The ABC version has landed at WE tv with writer Byron Balasco (Without a Trace) and producer Aaron Kaplan attached. It comes as WE tv continues to ramp up its scripted programming under Cheryl Bloch. The female-skewing cable network will debut its first original scripted drama -- The Divide from Richard LaGravenese and Scandal's Tony Goldwyn -- in 2014.
"We're going to take the same kind of focus and care going forward in that process," Underwood says of Signature's shopping approach.
Here's a closer look at the five projects:
•Grand Central: From writers Sam Ernst and Jim Dunn (Haven), the drama is based on Stephen King's short story and is in development at ABC for a potential summer straight-to-series order. It's described as a character-driven procedural with a supernatural twist. Shawn Pillar, Lloyd Segan and Scott Shepherd (Haven, Greek, The Dead Zone) will exec produce.
•Corridors: Based on a spec by Fernley Phillips (Number 23), Signature landed the script in a competitive situation with multiple studios bidding and is packaging the project before taking it out to cable networks. The premise is being kept under wraps but it's described as a supernatural thriller exploring the mysteries of life after death.
• Strega: Joe Gangemi (Eliza Graves) will pen the script for the drama, which is in development at A&E via producers the Gotham Group. It's described as a psychological horror story that meets cul-de-sac soap about a young American family who hire an au pair from Italy only to discover that dark forces come along with her.
• Suburban Shootout: Based on the British format that was first developed by ABC in 2011, the project is now in the works at WE tv with writer Byron Balasco (Without a Trace) and Aaron Kaplan's Kapital Entertainment as well as Laurence Bowen and Philip Clarke's Feelgood Fiction. It marks the third effort to bring the series to the U.S. The dark comedy centers on a woman who escapes the city and her father's mob ties for suburban bliss only to discover that she has to use the skills she learned from her family to achieve the life she desires.
• Borne to be Wilde: The multicamera comedy is being developed for TBS with Matt and Billy Eddy (Time Out)writing the half-hour from executive producers Courteney Cox and David Arquette, whose Coquette Productions is based at ABC Studios. The project centers on three adult siblings who take over running their parents auto shop on the outskirts of Phoenix and discover that while it's easy to slip into their old sibling rivalries, navigating adulthood is easier with the support of their very imperfect family.