NBC Prepping George Washington Drama With Barry Levinson

Washington: A Life Cover Ron Chernow - P 2012

Washington: A Life Cover Ron Chernow - P 2012

NBC is poised to examine the life of the first U.S. president.

The network is teaming with Oscar and Emmy winners Barry Levinson (Rain Man), David Seidler (The King's Speech), Gareth Neame (Downton Abbey), Jason Sosnoff and Tom Fontana (Oz) for a historical drama about George Washington, The Hollywood Reporter has learned.

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Based on what's hailed as the first biography to unlock the president's complex and enigmatic personality, Washington: A Life, the New York Times best-seller and Pulitzer Prize-winning book by Ron Chernow, George Washington (working title) is described as an unprecedented and intimate look at the leader who became the father of a nation on one side of the Atlantic and a terrorist on the other. Episodes of the potential series would move back and forth through the war hero and president's life and tell the little-known and unlikely story of his survival and triumph, revealing his true character for the first time -- not the tale of the man who chopped down the cherry tree.

"There's George Washington the national icon, gazing out from the dollar bill with his mouthful of supposedly wooden teeth, and then there's the George Washington who had an adulterous affair with his best friend's wife," said Seidler, who will pen the script and executive produce. "The George Washington obsessed with social status, finely tailored clothes, his image. Not an icon, a very human human being, who learned how to lead. That’s the man I want to understand.”

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The Carnival/NBC Universal International production, which received a script commitment from the network, will be executive produced by Levinson, an Oscar- and Emmy-winning director-screenwriter who will also helm the pilot.

“What’s so interesting is here was a man who was more instrumental to what our country is today and more famous than any other figure in our history, and yet no one knows anything about him," said Levinson. "We know the myth of the man, but the reality was he was a flawed and troubled character who overcame his flaws to become one of the foremost leaders of this nation.”

Added Sosnoff, Levinson's Baltimore Pictures' head of production and development who also will exec produce the drama: "With America’s ongoing dialogue with leadership, there could not be a more important time to tell the story of a man who had tremendous vision and the will to carry it out against extreme polarization. Without George Washington, there is no such thing as the United States.”

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Neame, the Emmy- and Golden Globe-winning EP and managing director of Carnival Films, will also executive produce alongside Emmy-, Humanitas- and Peabody-winning writer-producer Fontana (Copper).

Seidler, who won the Academy Award for his screenplay for The King's Speech, is repped by WME, Jeff Aghassi Management and U.K. agent Greg Hunt. Levinson, who earned Oscar nominations for directing Bugsy and writing and directing 1982's Diner, among others, is with UTA and 3 Arts. Fontana, who won Emmys for his work on St. Elsewhere and Homicide: Life on the Street, is repped by UTA. George Washington marks the latest entry to come out of the Levinson/Fontana Co., joining Copper and The Box, a half-hour police drama set up at A&E, among others.

Email: Lesley.Goldberg@thr.com; Twitter: @Snoodit