'Giants' star Black in talent-holding deal

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Jordan Black, star of CBS' pilot presentation "Giants of Radio," has inked a joint talent holding deal with CBS and the pilot's producer, 20th Century Fox TV.

It's unusual for networks and studios to sign actors on their pilots in talent deals, but "Giants" is not your ordinary pilot.

In the summer, writer-director Jason Winer -- hot off the well-regarded 2006 Fox/20th TV comedy pilot "The Adventures of Big Handsome Guy and His Little Friend," which he co-wrote and starred in -- pitched to 20th TV a comedy set behind the scenes of a radio syndication network. The studio liked the pitch and bought it for $150,000. But instead of writing a script, Winer called up some of his friends from the improv circuit -- Black, Missi Pyle, Joel McHale, Jackie Tohn and Danny Pudi -- and used the money to shoot a full-length single-camera partially scripted pilot with all actors working for nominal fees.

Winer also reached out through his agents at ICM to comedian Phil Hendrie, a popular Los Angeles radio personality, whom he had admired for years.

"I'd always been a huge talk radio junkie," Winer said. "Despite the fact that we have huge proliferation of new-media platforms, radio is bigger than ever, but the landscape has changed, with the stations now owned by big corporations."

Winer said he felt improv was perfect for a show set in the world of radio.

"I thought that gave us the perfect chance to make radio feel more real onscreen than previously done because radio is an improv medium," he said.

The fictional syndication network in the center of the show produces three shows, a "Loveline"-style radio show, hosted by two sisters, played by Pyle and Tohn; a right-wing talk show hosted by Hendrie's character; and a sports show hosted by Winer and Black's characters.

While it was shot on a shoestring budget, "Giants," executive produced by Winer and Guy Walks Into a Bar's Matthew Weinberg, Todd Komarnicki and Jon Berg, was made to look and feel like a real pilot.

"My goal was to change the process and to prove that you can do something of quality outside of the system," Winer said.

20th TV's comedy executives loved the footage and shopped it to the networks as a not-for-broadcast presentation. With several broadcast nets interested -- including ABC -- CBS picked the project up for consideration with its other pilots, developed through the regular channels.

Because of the way "Giants" came to be, CBS and 20th TV had no deals in place with the actors like they would normally have. They have since signed up Winer and Hendrie.

Pyle is on Fox's midseason series "The Wedding Bells," and McHale is on NBC's "The IT Crowd" comedy pilot, and it is not clear if they will become available for "Giants."

Since there reportedly was a strong interest in Black from ABC, CBS and 20th TV stepped up to ink a talent holding deal with the actor, locking him for "Giants" if it goes to series or for another project if "Giants" doesn't make the cut.

Black is starring on another series, Comedy Central's "Halfway Home," but because the show is on basic cable, it is understood that he would be able to do it alongside "Giants" as long as "Giants' " shooting schedule doesn't interfere with "Home's" schedule.

Black, who recently co-starred in "For Your Consideration" and recurred on Fox's "Free Ride," is repped by UTA, manager Pam Thomas and attorney George Davis.
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