Fontana leaves 'Philanthropist'

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Tom Fontana has exited NBC's upcoming drama series "The Philanthropist" over creative differences with the network.

The veteran writer-producer penned the project based on an idea by Original Media's Charlie Corwin. NBC ordered Fontana's script straight to series in September (HR 9/27).

"Philanthropist," set at Universal Media Studios, centers on a renegade billionaire who uses his wealth, connections and power to help people in need no matter what the risks or costs.

Fontana assembled a writing staff for the show and began breaking stories for additional episodes until the WGA strike brought the process to a halt. The writers went back to work after the 100-day stoppage and handed a number of scripts to the network.

At that point, it became clear that Fontana and network brass had different visions for the series, sources said.

True to his gritty roots, Fontana focused on such social issues as immigration, drug addiction and the use of children soldiers in parts of world, while the network was looking for more escapist and fantastical approach to fit the rest of its lineup.

Additionally, the project has had difficulty casting the lead for the past seven months.

Still, NBC said at its upfront presentation this month that "Philanthropist" will be on its 2008-09 schedule, launching in midseason and airing Mondays 10 p.m.

The search is under way for a new writer-showrunner. The fate of the show's current writing staff, mostly scribes who have worked with Fontana before, is unclear.

Fontana was executive producing "Philanthropist" with his producing partner Barry Levinson and Corwin. Corwin will now continue as the sole exec producer until a new showrunner is hired.

Meanwhile, Fontana, who won several Emmys for his work on "St. Elsewhere" and "Homicide: Life on the Street," is developing a new project for AMC.
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