A strong foundation for medieval 'Pillars'

Tandem, Scotts set novel for TV

Munich-based boutique producer-distributor Tandem Communications has nailed down the rights to Ken Follett's best-seller "The Pillars of the Earth" to produce as a limited series with Ridley and Tony Scott's Scott Free Prods.

Follett's novel is a sweeping tale of love, war and religious strife set in 12th century England during the building of the fictional Kingsbridge Cathedral. Originally published in 1989, "Pillars" has sold more than 14 million copies worldwide and recently was picked by Oprah Winfrey as a selection for her book club.

Tandem and Scott Free intend to quickly push forward with the "Pillars" series, with presales beginning next week at the MIPTV trade show in Cannes.

"We'd like to capitalize on the tremendous success that's been fueled by Oprah Winfrey's identification of the book," Scott Free president of television David Zucker said. "We hope to get the series in front of an audience in the next year or so."

Tandem and Scott Free are planning "Pillars" as a limited series along the lines of Showtime's "The Tudors." Follett will not adapt his own novel, but Zucker said the author would be "as involved as he wants to" with the production.

Zucker said Scott Free would be finalizing a deal with an American writer within the next week or so, and depending on the scripter's conception of the story line, the company would decide whether the series should be the normal eight episodes or more. He would not name the writer in question, because negotiations are not complete, but he is, Zucker said, someone the company has worked with before.

Zucker said the budget for the limited series is "similarly ambitious" to that for "The Tudors," which was in the $2 million an episode range.

"The TV landscape in the U.S. is changing dramatically in the wake of the writers strike, and the broadcast networks are looking for original material from a wider range of sources," Zucker said. In other words, he suggested, the series could end up on a broadcast network rather than on cable.

Follett's latest novel, "World Without End," a "Pillars" sequel of sorts also set in medieval Kingsbridge, has been a fixture on the New York Times best-seller list since debuting at No. 1 in October.

"Ken Follett's storytelling artistry presents a richness and brilliance we dream about when searching for outstanding properties," Ridley Scott said. He went on to praise "the scope and power of the story and the richness of the characters."

In addition to co-producing the series, Tandem, which spent the past eight years chasing the rights to "Pillars," will handle international sales on the project.

"My partners and I absolutely love this book and understand that only the medium of television can properly tell this amazingly rich story full of drama, sensuality and pathos," Tandem managing director Rola Bauer said. "It's the material that makes international television events successful."

Zucker said filming of the series could begin before year's end and probably would take place in Europe because an entire medieval town is at the center of the action.

Neither partner is a stranger to epic television.

In addition to producing CBS' "Numbers," Scott Free has delivered a string of big-budget miniseries and telefilms, including "The Andromeda Strain," a four-hour adaptation of Michael Crichton's best-seller, which premieres in May on A&E.

On the film side, Scott Free is in postproduction on Ridley Scott's Iraq War thriller "Body of Lies," starring Leonardo DiCaprio. The British director is preproduction on his Robin Hood tale "Nottingham," which stars Russell Crowe. Tony Scott's next film will be a remake of 1970s hostage thriller "The Taking of Pelham One Two Three," this time featuring John Travolta and Denzel Washington.

Under the polyglot Bauer, a transplanted Canuck producer, Tandem has carved out a niche in high-end miniseries and telefilms for the international market, with shows including "Dune," "Dragon's World" and "The Company" as well as the "Nora Roberts" franchise.

Follett's deal was brokered by CAA. David Nochimson of the Ziffren law firm brokered on behalf of Tandem and Scott Free Television. Scott Free also is repped by CAA.