Ish slate filled with big names

Television projects include Ed Burns' 'Bayside Boys'

NEW YORK -- Several top film names are taking a leap into television courtesy of hungry startup Ish Entertainment.

Hot screenwriters Edward Cannistraci and Frederick Seton, the writers behind Fox's Jim Carrey feature "Pierre Pierre," have set up the male-comedy script "Gnarly" at Comedy Central.

Meanwhile, Ed Burns will write, direct and star in "Bayside Boys," a kind of East Coast "Entourage" about a group of twentysomething male friends from the middle-class neighborhood of Bayside, Queens, that's being peddled to top cable nets.

It's part of the ambitious development slate of Ish, the new(ish) production banner founded last year by former VH1 execs Michael Hirschorn and Stella Stolper, who count among their goals taking film and music names and steering them to television.

The former exec vp original programming and senior vp celebrity talent at the MTV sister network have a kind of yin-and-yang dynamic. The New York-based Hirschorn is the guru of formats (he helped fuel the nonfiction boom this decade with the nostalgia franchise "I Love the ..."). Stolper, based in Los Angeles, has leveraged her relationships with talent to bring big names to the TV universe. "The goal is to take talent and marry it to a format ," she said. "No format is strong enough without a piece of talent."

The result is a mixture of projects from up-and-coming film writers and bold-faced entertainment names. Among Ish's new development titles:

-- "Gnarly," Cannistraci's and Seton's tale of two schlubby thirtysomethings who travel back in time to their high-school selves to see if they can correct what made them such losers with the ladies. The script has been bought by Comedy Central and is being developed as a series but could also go the feature route, with Brett Ratner expressing interest.

-- "Bayside," which revolves around the group of four friends not unlike Burns' own one-time posse. One of the friends has a job at a big-time ad agency in Manhattan, and the series will follow their lives caught between the glamour of the city and a more prosaic outer-borough existence. Burns is on board to play a supporting role as a mentor to the group.

-- A dramedy from "Hitch" writer Kevin Bisch, "One if by Land," about a cafe in New York where couples go to get married. The pilot script had been bought by CBS, though the project could end up with another network.

-- An early-stage nonfiction project at MTV with Lindsay Lohan, which the celebrity would exec produce and have a small part. But even though Ish produces "Paris Hilton's My New BFF," don't count on any Paris-Lindsay reunions.

-- An untitled scripted project about a girl group formed by the daughters of rappers T.I. and Lil Wayne. That's in addition to T.I.'s MTV series "Road to Redemption" and separate shows in development with him and fellow rappers Akon, Tyga, Fabolous and Bow Wow.

-- "Bridge and Tunnel," a pilot at MTV about a group of recent high school grads in the New York hinterland of Staten Island. Segments were shown, to favorable response, at MTV's upfront.

--  A reality show featuring Ron Artest, the colorful NBA forward who joined the Los Angeles Lakers in the offseason. The show will document Artest's life; BET might come aboard.

While the company's roots are in celeb-reality and its offshoots, toppers say the goal of the slate is to combine that kind of programming with in-depth and documentary-quality storytelling

"What I'd really like to do is continue doing what we've always done but push out into documentary, because that's where I see the medium going," Hirschorn said.

And even when there is a project driven by a bold-faced name, Hirschorn hopes that larger themes -- particularly that of redemption, as there was in the T.I. series as well as a new series with D.J. A.M. they recently announced -- come through as well.

Stolper says Ish aims to grow by using the names -- and the media that comes with them -- to attract nets and audiences. "We have every socialite and every young actress and every rapper in Hollywood in lockdown," she said.

Execs who have bought programming from the banner say talent and format is a careful balance that Ish has mastered.

"If the idea is weak, the talent is just a Band-Aid," MTV Networks topper Tony DiSanto said. "But bold-faced names in the right role can certainly put a good concept over the top."

The banner, which has a first-look deal with MTV Networks and receives production, financial and distribution support from Lionsgate TV, also is built on the idea that a successful cable series can pay dividends far beyond its initial run.

For instance, "My New BFF," the American version of which airs on MTV, has spawned several overseas editions, including a Middle Eastern one that recently shot in Dubai. The plan is to sell both the U.K. edition and the Dubai one back to U.S. cable nets.

The goal with all of Ish's programs, Stolper said, it to break the boundaries among media.
"There's no reason people who have all these ideas or are popular in film or music shouldn't also be big in television," she said.