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Justin Zackham, the writer of Rob Reiner’s upcoming feature “The Bucket List,” starring Jack Nicholson and Morgan Freeman, is venturing into television with two high-profile projects.
A semiautobiographical drama he is penning landed at CBS with a premium script commitment and Jon Turteltaub attached as an executive producer. He also is working on “Lights Out,” which is set up at Fox TV Studios with Phillip Noyce on board as an executive producer.
Not too bad for a someone who a couple of years ago was on the verge of quitting screenwriting to start an Internet company with childhood friend and producing partner Clay Pecorin.
Zackham had struggled to make it as a feature writer for years, working on projects that were never made. But before closing that chapter in his career, Zackham decided to give it one last shot with an idea he had about two terminally ill men who escape from a cancer ward and go on a road trip. He penned “Bucket List” in two weeks, only to see it turned down by every producer in town until it ended up in Reiner’s hands.
In addition to writing, Zackham executive produced the film through Two Ton Films, his company with Pecorin.
After his experience on “Bucket List,” which is slated for a limited release on Christmas Day, Zackham turned his sights to television this summer. During a meeting at CBS, entertainment chief Nina Tassler and co-head of drama development Christina Davis asked him about his life, and he began telling stories about growing up in Connecticut with a group of friends — including Pecorin — who have remained close through the years.
That became his show for the network, which is being produced by CBS Paramount Network TV.
“It’s a one-hour drama with comedic elements about five guys and one girl in their late 20s who have been friends since they were kids and who struggle to maintain their tight-knit group in the face of adulthood,” Zackham said. “It’s a show about the little things in life that both makes us laugh and make us cry.”
CBS put Zackham in touch with Turteltaub and his company Junction Entertainment, who have a long-standing relationship with the network and the studio through the drama “Jericho” and an overall deal at CBS Par TV.
“He’s a great director,” Zackham said of Turteltaub. “It’s great to have him as a partner and somebody who will create the vision of the first episode.”
Zackham and Turteltaub are executive producing the project, with Junction’s Karim Zreik and Dan Shotz serving as co-executive producers. Pecorin also is expected to produce Two Ton Films’ TV projects in some capacity.
“This show is a dream come true — a show about my friends, which I get to do with my best friend,” Zackham said.
“Lights Out,” which is being developed for cable, centers on a retired boxing champ suffering from pugilistic dementia — a neurological disorder that affects boxers who receive multiple blows to the head — who gradually loses all of his memories.
“The show is designed to run for five seasons as we see the progression — first he defies the notion but subsequently accepts it and starts getting his life back in order,” Zackham said. “The show is going to be informed by ‘King Lear’; it chronicles the gradual decent as he begins to lose his personality.”
The idea for “Lights Out” was pitched to Zackham by manager-producer Ross Fineman, who brought his client Noyce onboard.
The three are executive producing.
Zackham grew up without television but finally was allowed to watch one hour a week when he was 12. He has been fascinated by it ever since and, as a screenwriter, has been attracted to the idea of staying with his beloved characters beyond the final page of the feature script. And while feature screenwriting is a lonely craft, a big chunk of TV writing is done in the writers room.
“I’ve always loved the idea of collaborating with a team of writers and producers on a daily basis,” Zackham said.
On the feature side, Zackham and Pecorin are putting together the talent and financing for three movies, the first of which they’re hoping to get into production in the spring.
Zackham is repped by WMA.
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