Mac is back: Fox sitcom with Helford

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In rare development news amid the gloom and doom of the writers strike, Fox has picked up a comedy project starring Bernie Mac that's written by "The Drew Carey Show" creator Bruce Helford.

The multicamera project, tentatively titled "Starting Under," has received a series commitment from the network.

The comedy, which hails from Warner Bros. TV and Helford's studio-based Mohawk Prods., was pitched before the writers strike and garnered interest from several networks.

It centers on a larger-than-life and opinionated man (Mac), who, after a divorce, finds himself living with and working for his introverted twentysomething son. Veteran helmer Andy Ackerman is on board to direct the pilot.

"Under," which will be executive produced by Helford, his producing partner Deborah Oppenheimer and Ackerman, stems from a new two-year overall deal Helford and Mohawk quietly inked with WBTV in June. Mac and his manager Steven Greener will serve as producers on the show.

"It's a 'Cheers'-like, well-contructed, 'Frasier'-esque comedy," Fox entertainment president Kevin Reilly said. "Bruce came up with a brilliant idea that balances Bernie's unique point of view with a new twist, surrounding him with great supporting characters."

Mac, who headlined Fox's single-camera comedy "The Bernie Mac Show," said his return to TV "was not intentional."

"But when I met Bruce and we started working on ideas, it seemed all too natural and exciting," he said. "I am glad to be back."

Helford, who has been on the picket lines for the past few days, declined to discuss the deal, saying only, "I can't wait for the strike to be over so I can start working with Bernie Mac."

Helford has a strong record creating series for stand-up comedians. He also was behind ABC's long-running hit "George Lopez."

There are no comedy series on the Big Four networks with a black lead this season, but there are at least three high-profile sitcoms in the works for next season toplined by black male comedians: "Under" and family comedies at ABC starring Cedric the Entertainer and Damon Wayans. The Wayans project, which the comedian co-created with his "My Wife and Kids" collaborator Don Reo, centers on the relationship of a recent widower (Wayans) and his 19-year-old stepson.

Mac, recently seen in "Ocean's Thirteen" and "Transformers," is repped by Endeavor and attorneys Barry Hirsch and David Matlof.

Helford is repped by Endeavor and attorney Cliff Gilbert-Lurie.
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