7 Days of Deals
Ka-ching! Who's inking on the dotted line this week.
KUTCHER CAMPAIGNED FOR MEN: Ashton Kutcher's path to Two and Half Men began with an April phone call to his lawyer. Robert Offer is a longtime friend of CBS president Nina Tassler, who wanted to test the waters with Kutcher because she thought his comedic chops (That '70s Show) and youthful fan base (6.7 million Twitter followers) might be the right fit to replace the ousted Charlie Sheen on TV's No. 1 sitcom. Turned out Kutcher was game for the challenge. "Ashton and his team really wanted this," says a source close to the deal. "They were campaigning for the job." But Warner Bros. and Men executive producer Chuck Lorre were already heavily courting Hugh Grant. The British leading man had secretly flown to Los Angeles and, according to sources briefed on the creative meetings, seemed interested in the character Lorre had conceived for him. But while Grant's CAA agents were negotiating his deal, the actor abruptly got cold feet May 8, opening the door for Kutcher's team at CAA and Untitled. "They pounced," the source says, quickly negotiating a deal that will pay the actor about $700,000 per episode plus incentives. The contract was about to be signed when THR broke the casting news May 12, allowing CBS to release an announcement well before its upfront presentation to advertisers. "I can't replace Charlie Sheen," Kutcher said in the statement. "But I'm going to work my ass off to entertain the hell out of people." -- Matthew Belloni
Scribe Conjures Warners' Merlin
It's the screenwriting equivalent of pulling the sword out of the stone. Ed Whitworth, a script reader for Oprah Winfrey's Harpo Productions, has landed the plum gig to write The Lost Years of Merlin, Warner Bros.' big-budget adaptation of the first book in the fantasy series by T.A. Barron. Donald De Line is producing the origin story of the mythical wizard. Whitworth (WME, Circle of Confusion) studied at Oxford and worked as a journalist before enrolling in UCLA's screenwriting program. He worked as a reader for ICM and, for the past year, for Harpo, which afforded him time to write. Last year, Whitworth wrote a spec about former Secretary of State and retired four-star general Colin Powell that generated notice in the development community. That led to a series of general meet-and-greets with execs, including one with Warners and De Line Productions, which took to his Merlin pitch. Whitworth has informed his Harpo bosses that he is going on hiatus. "Everyone tells me it'll never happen this easily again," he says. -- Borys Kit
Gary Ross (CAA, Newhouse Porter Hubbard, Jackoway Tyerman) and Color Force, who are working on The Hunger Games, have reteamed for a modern take on Cyrano de Bergerac with a script by John Whittington (WME). Ross is attached to direct and Color Force chief Nina Jacobson will produce for New Regency.
The Amazing Spider-Man writer James Vanderbilt (WME, UFUSE, McKuin Frankel) will pen Red Riding, Columbia's adaptation of the popular British telefilms. Ridley Scott is directing and producing via his Scott Free banner along with Steve Zaillian.
Chuck co-star Yvonne Strahovski (IFA, Australia's Sue Barnett, McKeon-Myones) has joined My Mother's Curse, Paramount's road movie starring Seth Rogen and Barbra Streisand. Anne Fletcher (The Proposal) is directing from a script by Dan Fogelman (Cars).
Derek Luke (WME, Ziffren Brittenham) has joined Mandate's Seeking a Friend for the End of the World, starring Steve Carell and Keira Knightley. Lorene Scafaria (WME, Anonymous, Sloane Offer) is making her directorial debut on the dramedy.
Ethan Hawke (CAA, George Sheanshang) has joined the cast of Total Recall, Columbia's Colin Farrell-toplined remake of the 1990 feature based on the Philip K. Dick story.
James Franco's Sal Mineo biopic has cast Val Lauren (Peter Strain & Associates) as the late actor best known for his performance in Rebel Without a Cause. Franco is writing, directing and producing the project, based on a recently published biography of Mineo by Michael Gregg Michaud.
CBS Films has picked up Inside the Machine, a thriller spec from Marc Maurino (UTA, Circle of Confusion, Schreck Rose). Beau Flynn and Tripp Vinson of Contrafilm are producing.
Jonathan Levine (CAA, Ragna Nervik, Weissmann Wolff) will direct Legend, CBS' adaptation of a futuristic book series by Marie Lu. Marty Bowen and Wyck Godfrey (Twilight) are producing.
Miles Teller (CAA, Bold, Stone Meyer) is in talks to co-star in 21 and Over, Relativity's comedy that will act as the directorial debuts of The Hangover scribes Scott Moore and Jon Lucas. Mandeville's David Hoberman and Todd Lieberman are producing.
Tom Gormican (WME, Underground, Bloom Hergott) will write Warner Bros.' take on the writings of Emily Post. Warners picked up the project in February 2010 with Nick Osborne and Trevor Engelson of Underground Films producing. The studio also inked with the Emily Post Institute for rights to use Post, her literary library and legacy, which includes the best-seller Etiquette.
Warner Bros. has picked up The Architect, a period chase-thriller pitch from writer Jason Smilovic (CAA, Madhouse, Frankfurt Kurnit). Elaine Goldsmith-Thomas is attached to produce with Smilovic, Tyler Mitchell and Marisa Yeres.
Syfy is developing a spinoff of Warehouse 13 with the dramedy's writers Jack Kenny (UTA, Myman Greenspan) and Bob Goodman (Brant Rose, Kinetic, Myman Greenspan) that will center on the late sci-fi author H.G. Wells. Kenny recently signed a development deal with producer Universal Cable Productions.
Mos (Brookside Artist Management) has finalized a deal for an arc on Season 6 of Dexter. The actor-rapper will play a hardened ex-con who claims to have found religion.
Spike TV has picked up six unscripted pilots including The Sheriff, from Ben Silverman's Electus and 5X5 Media, which follows law-enforcement expert Tony Schiena helping sheriff departments, and Pawn Games, from Jersey Shore executive producer SallyAnn Salsano.
Michael Nyqvist, who co-starred in the three Swedish Girl With the Dragon Tattoo films and will appear in Abduction and Mission: Impossible 4, has signed with WME. … Steven Banks, head writer for Arnold Schwarzenegger's upcoming animated series The Governator, has signed with CAA. … Writer-director Beth Schacter, who is working on her indie comedy A Virgin Mary, has signed with UTA. … The Knot Inc., a lifestyle company with websites that focus on weddings, babies and young couples, has signed with WME. … Tapout Films, the UFC-affiliated prodution company, has signed with ICM to pursue film, television, IP and branding opportunities.