HBO eyes series on U.S. exodus

'Americatown' in development from writer Bradford Winters

What if the current financial crisis in the U.S. becomes so severe that Americans start to flee the country?

Welcome to "Americatown," a Chinatown-like enclave of U.S. immigrants in cities around the world.

HBO is developing the futuristic drama series project, which hails from writer Bradford Winters and producers Tom Fontana, Barry Levinson, Frank Marshall and Kathleen Kennedy.

Set 25-40 years into the future when the precipitous decline of the U.S. leads to a mass exodus of its citizens, "Americatown" takes place in a cluster of newly arrived American immigrants in a big foreign city.

"By presenting Americans as immigrants in the near future, as both underdog and hero in the drama of global dislocation, we substitute a mirror for the rancor that informs much of the partisan debates on immigration," Winters said.

The deal at HBO caps a decade-long development process for Winters, who at different points shepherded the project as a series, movie, miniseries and a book.

His original idea, which he shared with Fontana, was to take a "Traffic"-style look at immigration in present day New York from different points of view.

Winters was introduced to Fontana 11 years ago by his actor brothers, Scott William Winters and Dean Winters. After some freelance work by then recent college graduate Winters, he joined Levinson/Fontana and has been with the company on a nonexclusive base ever since, working on such series as "Oz," "The Jury" and "The Bedford Diaries."

After kicking the immigration idea around for awhile, Winters and Fontana had it on the back burner when they were approached by Marshall and Kennedy, who also had been looking to do an immigration-themed project.

A year ago, the quartet had been tweaking Winters' sprawling contemporary drama premise, figuring out how to address the complex political aspects of the immigration issue, in preparation for a pitch at HBO. Then one night at the dinner table, Winters came up with the futuristic idea that would become "Americatown." Winters is exec producing the project with Fontana, Levinson, Marshall and Kennedy. This marks the first collaboration between Kennedy/Marshall, whose Gregg Taylor and Matt Jackson will oversee the project, and Levinson/Fontana.

In his research for "Americatown," Winters had explored possible nightmare scenarios that could bring the U.S. to a collapse decades down the road, like the price of oil skyrocketing and natural disasters reaching catastrophic proportions. Then suddenly oil hovered near $150 a barrel this summer, floods hit the Midwest and the South and Wall Street crashed under the weight of the mortgage crisis.

How does Winters feel seeing the circumstances in his fictional tale become a self-fulfilling prophecy?

"What is happening right now is such a terrible disaster for so many people and, in some ways, I think it makes it less hard to argue that the events in 'Americatown' are impossible," he said.

Winters, currently on NBC's "Kings," Fontana and Kennedy/Marshall are repped by UTA. Levinson is with ICM.