Sam Shepard to star in Epix pilot

'Tough Trade' centers on a Nashville music dynasty

In its first casting, Epix has tapped Sam Shepard to star in its inaugural pilot, "Tough Trade," an indication that the fledging multiplatform entertainment service will be pursuing established talent for its original offerings.

"Trade," from Lionsgate TV, executive producer/showrunner Jenji Kohan and co-executive producer/creator Chris Offutt, is a contemporary one-hour drama about the Tucker family, a three-generation Nashville music dynasty whose penchant for drink, debauchery and divorce has left them morally corrupt and on the verge of bankruptcy.

Shepard will play the patriarch.

Lionsgate TV president Kevin Beggs called Shepard "a brilliant, multitalented artist who will bring great authenticity to the project."

Gavin Hood is directing the pilot, slated to start production Dec. 3 in Nashville.

Epix, a joint venture of Viacom, Paramount, MGM and Lionsgate that launched Oct. 30 with concert and comedy specials, has not announced additional carriage deals beyond its pact with Verizon's FiOS. But the premium channel has been gearing up original production in the past couple of months under head of original programming Laverne McKinnon and is looking to launch its first original scripted program, probably a miniseries, in third-quarter 2010, with its first series eyed for a debut in early 2010.

"Tough Trade," executive produced by Kohan and Sean and Bryan Furst, is the prime candidate to fill that spot, a prospect echoed in Epix president and CEO Mark Greenberg's remarks about Shepard's casting.

"We are proud to have him be a part of Epix's first original series," Greenberg said, adding that he has "no doubt that 'Tough Trade' is going to be a great story that launches our original programming lineup on Epix" and that he looks "forward to showing this pilot episode on Epix in 2010."

Actor-playwright Shepard, a Pulitzer Prize winner for his play "Buried Child" and an Oscar nominee for "The Right Stuff," next appears in Lionsgate's feature "Brothers," opposite Tobey Maguire, Jake Gyllenhaal and Natalie Portman. He is repped by ICM.