'Persons' takes different TV route


Fox TV Studios is looking beyond Hollywood and the traditional model for producing primetime series with "Persons Unknown," a drama from Oscar-winning writer Christopher McQuarrie.

"Persons," which will start with a 13-episode order, will be financed by international broadcasters who will run it on their networks. The show also will be made available to U.S. TV outlets.

"Persons," which McQuarrie is executive producing with his wife Heather, is described as a paranoid thriller about a group of strangers who awaken in a deserted town with no memory of how they arrived there, only to realize that they are watched by omnipresent security cameras and that there is no escape.

"Persons" has been a passion project for FtvS' scripted programming department headed by David Madden. It first was developed four years ago when it was set up at Fox. It later was redeveloped for the Sci Fi Channel but wasn't picked up.

This summer, the script was brought to the attention of FtvS' new president Emiliano Calemzuk. A long-time Fox international executive, he has been looking to shake things up at FtvS with new production models since joining the company in April.

During his stints as president of Fox International Channels Italy for the past five years and his tenure at Fox's Latin America channels before that, Calemzuk was able to learn first-hand the challenges international broadcasters face with the scarcity of scripted American series and the quick demise of many new U.S. comedy and dramas, which often are canceled after a couple of episodes, leaving oversees buyers hanging.

Dipping into his international background, he drafted the producing model for "Persons" and used his worldwide connections to reach out to a number TV outlets.

So far the project has garnered serious interest from at least five international broadcasters, sources said.

Casting as well as a search for a showrunner and writers are under way. McQuarrie -- who is in Berlin working on the Bryan Singer-directed "Valkyrie," which he co-wrote -- is said to be closely involved. FtvS plans to begin shooting in first-quarter 2008 in a yet-to-be-named international location.

Although it will be shot outside of the U.S. and intended for international audiences, "Persons" will have the look and the feel of an American series, with American auspices and a predominantly American cast.

It also is expected to have a budget comparable to such high-end cable dramas as FtvS' "Burn Notice," "The Shield," "The Riches" and "Saving Grace."

If "Persons" is successful, FtvS might use the model for other series but will not abandon its core business on the scripted side, producing drama series for U.S. cable networks, sources said.