E! Unveils First Scripted Slate With Projects From Kevin Spacey, John Wells, Others

Kevin Spacey
Copyright Mark Leibowitz

Actor Kevin Spacey shares a laugh with a reporter during the Margin Call after party at Bing Bar. Spacey stars in the drama about an investment firm on the brink of a crisis before the 2008 financial collapse, which Roadside Attractions and Lionsgate purchased for just under $2 million.

The cable network is developing projects about ambitious Hollywood assistants, D.C. power brokers and the Vanderbilt family at the turn of the century.

E! is making good on its promise to push into scripted programming, with a slate featuring projects from John Wells, Kevin Spacey and Salt’s Phillip Noyce.

The slate, which will be announced as part of the NBCUniversal-owned cable network’s upfront event Monday evening, includes nine hourlong projects in development. Although they range from the expected (a series about Hollywood assistants) to the unexpected (a show about the Vanderbilt dynasty set in the 1890s), there is an aspirational component to each of them. At least one, and potentially two, of these projects will air on E! in 2013.

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The network, which NBCUniversal Cable Entertainment chairwoman Bonnie Hammer assumed control of following the Comcast acquisition, has been undergoing a rebrand for the better part of a year. Former marketing chief Suzanne Kolb was upped to entertainment president in July, and Kevin Plunkett was hired to oversee scripted programming in October. The trio, along with entertainment programming president Lisa Berger, has been focused on adding scripted programming to a portfolio that includes Chelsea Handler and Kardashian family fare.

"The slate rounds out the scope of the network in terms of what we’re offering, and it elevates the quality perception of the network,” Kolb tells The Hollywood Reporter of the strategy.

Adds Berger of both the task and the challenge: "The question for us has been, 'How do we tell unique and different stories in the scripted space that, frankly, we can't tell in the reality space?' " she says. "Because if you can tell the story in the reality space, one could argue reality is more interesting than scripted."

Here’s a look at the E! projects in development.

Amy Devlin Mysteries: Based on the graphic novel, this modern take on procedural storytelling centers on Amy Devlin, a culturally obsessed, late-twentysomething detective. "She embodies the E! brand," Berger says of the project's central character, adding that its storytelling technique was both unique and appealing given that the lead "becomes a part of the crime scene." The project hails from writer Daniel Barnz (Won't Back Down). He also will serve as an EP along with Oni Press’ Eric Gitter and CBS Productions’ Andy Bourne. 

Anne of Hollywood: Based on the best-selling novel by Carol Wolper, the story of Anne Boleyn and Henry VIII is reset in present-day Hollywood. The drama project comes from John Wells Productions and Warner Horizon Television.

Dorothy: The drama focuses on a girl from Kansas City who falls for a man and moves with him to the Emerald City to work at his Emerald Hotel. "What we loved about this is that it's such a fresh idea about an ingenue coming to the Emerald City, which is an overlay of Los Angeles, and what that's like," notes Berger. The hourlong project, which is inspired by the books Dorothy and The Wizard of Oz, comes from writer Natalie Krinsky (Gossip Girl, Grey's Anatomy) and Warner Horizon Television.

Fascination StreetA then-and-now look at the tumultuous relationship between two brothers as they work to make their band a success in the past and struggle to find out who is behind the disappearance of the lead singer in the present. "One of the key tenets to E! is music, and these guys came in with a great take on a rise of a band story with a mystery at the center," says Berger. Set up at Fox Television Studios, the drama counts Noyce (Clear and Present Danger, Patriot Games), Josh Reims (Brothers & Sisters), Ross Fineman (Lights Out) as executive producers along with writer Steven Kijak (Stones In Exile).

The 400: The rise of the Vanderbilt dynasty is chronicled in this stylized drama set in New York society of the 1890s. "Someone could ask why we're doing a turn-of-the-century show, but what's so great about this project is that it's the original one percent," says Berger. The Fox Television Studios drama hails from writer Emily Whitesell (Brothers & Sisters, Life Unexpected) and executive producer Anne Thomopoulos (Camelot, Rome).  

Juror #9: Alex Dunbar is a good man who makes one critically bad decision: He accidentally kills a woman who has been blackmailing him for a somewhat shady business deal. He frames a man who turns out to become the scion of a business empire. The ensuing media frenzy engulfs the police investigator, the DA and even Alex's wife as the trial becomes the national obsession. As the story unfolds, we learn that the framed man is far from innocent, the blackmailer was not who she seemed, and the puppet master for this media circus seems to be Juror #9, Alex Dunbar. The Warner Horizon project comes from writer Brian Ross (Crossing Jordan, L.A. Dragnet) and executive producer/director Danny Cannon (CSI, CSI Miami, Alcatraz).  

King David: The story of a modern-day Mr. Smith, who is a self-made billionaire, which Berger likens to Mark Cuban, with a penchant for hooking up with lobbyists in the nation's capital, hails from former D.C. lobbyist David Gerken (The West Wing, E-Ring). "When we first started to talk about this project, we all looked at each other and said, 'Can we do something that's not set in New York and Los Angeles?' " she recalls of the early conversations. "But we decided the character has such a lifestyle, attitude and strong point of view that it could fit into the E! mold." In addition to writing, Gerken also will serve as co-executive producer on the Universal Cable Productions drama.

Untitled Assistant Project: The Los Angeles-set drama revolves around a group of power-hungry executive assistants who seemingly are loyal minions to their high-powered bosses. However, when their superiors are out of the office, these aspiring titans plot their way up the corporate ladder. "We're going to be playing in a true hyper-reality here," notes Berger of the ensemble. The Fox TV Studios project comes from writers Meredith Lavender and Marcie Ulin (Missing, Covert Affairs) and executive producer Gary A. Randall (Saving Grace, The Glades).  

Upstarts: Fueled by power, money, sex and politics, the drama’s three central characters are looking to grab their share of wealth and glory amid Silicon Valley's digital gold rush of the late-1990s. The drama hails from executive producers Spacey and Michael De Luca (The Social Network, Moneyball), through their respective production companies, Trigger Street Productions and Michael De Luca Productions. The project is being written by Joey Falco, who also will be a co-executive producer. Dana Brunetti and Ben Younger will executive produce, with Younger set to direct, if the project is ordered to pilot. Brian Haas is also on board to co-executive produce the Universal Cable Productions drama.

Email: Lacey.Rose@THR.com; Twitter: @LaceyVRose