New take for 'Saint' series

5:00 AM PST 03/10/2008 by Nellie Andreeva, AP

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"The Saint" is marching back to television via a contemporary take on the Leslie Charteris' books, with James Purefoy in talks to topline as the debonair international thief Simon Templar.

Producers Barry Levinson and Tom Fontana, writer Jorge Zamacona, feature producer Bill Macdonald, Roger Moore -- who played Templar in the 1960s British series -- and his son Geoffrey Moore are all involved in the project.

Levinson is set to direct the two-hour TV movie/backdoor pilot, which will be produced independently and then shopped to the networks.

The project is backed by Nehst Studios, a financing, production and distribution company that recently partnered with Lexicon Filmed Entertainment to share $250 million from private-equity sources to finance features, TV series and Web series.

Macdonald has been associated with "Saint" on and off for 17 years. In 1991, he acquired the rights to the books for producer Robert Evans. The two went on to produce the 1997 feature starring Val Kilmer as the dapper adventurer.

In 2004, Macdonald teamed with Zamacona and Roger and Geoffrey Moore to bring the "Saint" franchise to television. The four formed Templar Entertainment Group, through which they acquired the TV rights to Charteris' novels.

The new "Saint" series was created by Zamacona, who penned the pilot script, and Macdonald. The project was originally set up at TNT, which announced it as part of its 2007 development slate last March (HR 3/13).

TNT later passed on it, and the rights reverted to the producers. Macdonald and Zamacona might have gone the traditional route -- trying to find a new network home for the show -- if it hadn't been for the writers strike.

With development activity in Hollywood screeching to a halt and Macdonald and Zamacona joining the picket lines, the producers began to mull producing the pilot and the potential series independently and seeking a network partner later. They were well into raising financing for the project when the strike ended.

"The strike changed our strategy because no one knew how long it was going to be, but producing the project independently gives us a lot more creative freedom," Macdonald said.

During the strike, Zamacona approached Levinson and Fontana, who had given him his first writing job on "Homicide: Life on the Street." The two came on board to executive produce "Saint" with Macdonald, Zamacona and Geoffrey Moore, and Levinson agreed to direct.



"One of the things we lost a little bit of in the movie but want to bring to the TV series is that Simon Templar is very funny character with great lines and situation humor, and I don't think there is anybody better than Levinson to tackle that," Macdonald said.

The producers then went after Purefoy, who recently starred on the HBO/BBC series "Rome," which was co-created and executive produced by Macdonald.

Casting is under way for the other key parts in the pilot: Inspector Claud Eustace Teal, the Interpol agent in charge of tracking Templar; Templar's romantic interest/assistant, Patricia Holm; and his enemy-turned-partner in crime, Baldwin Aleppo.

Filming on the two-hour telefilm, whose script was reworked after the strike, is expected to begin in April in Budapest, Hungary, New York and Puerto Rico.

The project is funded for seasons to come, Nehst founder and chairman Larry Meistrich said.

"We are committed to financing the pilot and deficiting the potential series," he said.

Added CEO Ari Friedman, "I think it's a really good time for a project like this, and we are confident we can find a home for it."

The two-hour movie/backdoor pilot model was used successfully to launch an updated version of another classic action-adventure series, "Knight Rider," which is expected to be picked up to series by NBC after the movie scored big ratings last month.

"Saint" was packaged by CAA. Levinson is repped by ICM.

Roger Moore starred on, produced and directed several episodes of the original British "Saint," which ran on ITV from 1962-69 and in syndication in the U.S. from 1963-66 and as a summer series on NBC from 1967-69.

In the past 10 years, there have been two attempts by broadcast networks to remake the series. In 2000, UPN teamed with director John McTiernan and ATG, while ABC took a stab at the franchise in 2004 with writer Stephen Nathan and "American Idol" producer FremantleMedia North America, which owned the rights at the time.
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