Two nets humming new tunes

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On the heels of several successful music reality series, two networks are going with music-themed drama projects about young performers.

ABC is teaming with the Neptunes' Pharrell Williams, veteran entertainment executive-turned-producer Leonard Goldberg, McG and comedy writer-producer David Rosenthal for "Limelight," a drama project set in a performing-arts school.

Meanwhile, Oscar-winning writer-director Bill Condon and Oscar-nominated producer Laurence Mark are venturing into series television with a one-hour project at NBC. Written by Robin Schiff, it revolves around a group of twentysomethings trying to make it as performers in New York.

"Limelight," which landed at ABC with a substantial penalty attached to it, has the vibe of a modern-day "Fame." It revolves around prodigious students and faculty at an innovative performing-arts school in New York, where young men and women explore the combustible blend of contemporary music and dance while balancing their dreams, hopes and struggles.

"Limelight" is based on an original idea from McG and Goldberg, who worked together on the two "Charlie's Angels" movies, which Goldberg produced and McG directed. Both have a personal connection to the premise for the show: Goldberg's wife started a performing-arts school in California, while McG has launched a music label, written songs for Sugar Ray and directed nearly 50 music videos.

McG then reached out to Williams, a Grammy winning hip-hop and R&B producer as well as singer-songwriter.

"Pharrell is the ultimate embodiment of credibility in this space — he attended a performing-arts high school and went on to become the most prolific producer of our generation," McG said. "I am honored to be his partner as he enters the world of television."

Williams said the idea of "Limelight" reminded him of growing up in Virginia, where he attended Old Donation Center for the Gifted and Talented.

"(I came) from a different environment where we stuck out for having abilities that we later learned — after attending a school like this — were actually gifts and talents," he said. "The moral DNA for this project is that it's OK to dream, but to bring it to fruition requires hard work."

Approached by McG, Rosenthal — who most recently was executive producer/showrunner on "Gilmore Girls" — sparked to the idea and came aboard to pen the project through a development commitment he has at Warner Bros. TV.

WBTV and McG's studio-based Wonderland Sound an Vision are producing "Limelight," with McG, Goldberg and Rosenthal executive producing. Wonderland's Peter Johnson is co-executive producing, with Williams serving as consulting producer.

McG, whose NBC series "Chuck" is off to a promising start, is repped by Endeavor, Management 360 and Offer, Weber & Dern.

Rosenthal is repped by WMA and Jeff Wise of Insight Management.

Williams is repped by Endeavor, managers Robert Walker and Yaneley Arty as well as attorney Jake Bloom.

In a way, NBC's untitled Condon/Schiff project, which has a script commitment, is a post-"Fame," chronicling the struggles of young people who are supporting themselves by working odd day jobs while pursuing their dreams to be actors, singers and musicians.

"It's going to be a very realistic series with very emotional stories that will hopefully get heightened through music and dance," Condon said.

Condon's inspiration for the show came from his experience on the feature "Dreamgirls," which he wrote and directed.

"I met so many talented performers that the chance to be able to deal with performers again was very enticing," he said.

Condon was bandying about the idea with "Dreamgirls" producer Mark, who in a chance meeting mentioned it to Schiff, with whom he had worked on the 1997 feature "Romy and Michele's High School Reunion." She jumped right on.

"Not only is it a show that I would watch, I'd do anything to work with Bill Condon; I'm a huge fan of his," Schiff said.

Combining hers and Condon's storytelling skills and blending his background in music and hers in comedy "is an opportunity to do a different type of one-hour show that has music and comedy elements," she said.

The NBC project might be inspired by "Dreamgirls," but it also has ties to such hit musicals as "Chicago," which Condon wrote, and "Hairspray."

"The success of musicals lately seems to be opening the doors for music in more places than ever, and one of them is television," Mark said.

Condon is repped by WMA, manager Adam Shulman and attorney Wayne Alexander.

Schiff is repped by Endeavor.
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