'Wag the Dog' TV Series in the Works at HBO (Exclusive)

Director Barry Levinson will adapt his 1997 political satire as a comedy for the small screen, with Robert De Niro attached as an exec producer.
Phillip V. Caruso/New Line Cinema/Photofest
'Wag the Dog' (1997)

HBO is jumping back into the political satire arena.

The premium cable network is teaming with Oscar winner Barry Levinson to develop his 1997 political satire Wag the Dog as a half-hour scripted comedy, The Hollywood Reporter has learned.

Levinson, who directed the film about a political strategist (Robert De Niro) who hires a Hollywood producer (Dustin Hoffman) to craft a fictional war to draw attention away from the president's sexual harassment scandal, will executive produce and direct the project should it move to pilot. 

HBO describes its adaptation as "an ode to the classic film but moving the weapons of mass distraction beyond politics and into business, entertainment and, yes, nonprofits. In the 21st century with the tools of social media at their hands, nothing is off limits to a small group of operators when it comes to manufacturing reality. Fake news is so yesterday."

Feature scribe Rajiv Joseph (Draft Day, My America, Army of One) will pen the adaptation for HBO. He will executive produce alongside Levinson and Tom Fontana via their Levinson/Fontana Co. Jason Sosnoff is also on board as an exec producer. De Niro and his Tribeca Productions banner partner, Jane Rosenthal, who produced the original film, will also exec produce alongside Berry Welsh, the company's vp production. Former Hillary Clinton ally David Brock is on board as a consultant. 

The comedy hails from Warner Bros. Television, whose feature film corporate sibling New Line Cinema produced the original. The film, which earned Oscar nominations for star Hoffman and screenwriter David Mamet, grossed $64.3 million worldwide. 

Interest in the movie has resurfaced of late, with pundits like economist Nouriel Roubini drawing comparisons between it and President Donald Trump's recent attack on Syrian airfields as a distraction from ongoing discussions of his possible collusion with Russia during the 2016 presidential election. 

For HBO, Wag the Dog arrives a year and a half after HBO canceled political satire The Brink, starring Tim Robbins and Jack Black. Wag the Dog also marks the latest collaboration for Levinson, De Niro and HBO, who have the TV movie The Wizard of Lies — which was produced by Tribeca Productions and brought Levinson on to direct — due later this year. De Niro stars in the highly anticipated telepic.

Reboots continue to remain in high demand across the TV landscape as broadcast, cable and streaming platforms look to proven IP in a bid to cut through a competitive landscape with more than 450 scripted originals. Key to their success is having the original producers involved, which Wag the Dog does with WBTV, Levinson, De Niro and Sosnoff. 

Joseph, meanwhile, is a playwright and 2010 Pulitzer Prize finalist for his Broadway production of Bengal Tiger at the Baghdad Zoo. On the TV side, his writing credits include Nurse Jackie. He is repped by Gersh, Kaplan/Perrone Entertainment and Frankfurt Kurnit. 

Levinson, who exec produces NBC's Jennifer Lopez cop drama Shades of Blue, is with WME and Hirsch Wallerstein. Fontana, meanwhile, also reunites with Levinson following Killing Fields, Oz, Copper and more. He is with UTA.