TNT grabs 'Cracker' for U.S.

Ian McKellen, Jim Caviezel a lock for 'Prisoner'

American viewers might get another, perhaps saltier, bite of 1990s British hit "Cracker" thanks to a second attempt at turning the quirky cop show into a series stateside.

Granada America, whose parent in the U.K. was the original producer-distributor of the Robbie Coltrane vehicle, has sold the format rights to TNT and will co-produce the series with the cabler. Robert Duvall and Robert Carliner's Butchers Run will executive produce. Granada retains all rights outside North America.

Additionally, Jim Caviezel and Ian McKellen have come on board to topline Granada's mini-series for AMC "The Prisoner."

The original "Cracker" starred the irrepressible Coltrane as Eddie "Fitz" Fitzgerald, who despite being a drinking, gambling, adulterous chain-smoker, managed to be both a sympathetic character and a savvy sleuth. Jimmy McGovern, a hard-charging British scribe, was the writer of the original; Jason Horwitch, who wrote "Medical Investigation" for NBC, is penning and co-executive producing the TNT version.

An Americanized "Cracker" starring Robert Pastorelli aired on ABC in fall 1997, but it lacked the punch of the original and was canceled after one season.

Why try again?

"It was such a success in the U.K. and around the world -- such a great character and also a great procedural," Granada America senior vp Julie Meldal-Johnsen said. "We thought the timing was right and that American cable, edgier and more open, would be a better venue for it than broadcast."

The deal for "Cracker" is part of the company's accelerated push to reconfigure its huge British library of scripted series for U.S. nets and cablers.

Per a number of international co-producers gathered in Los Angeles last week for a three-day Drama Summit sponsored by the transatlantic event organizer MediaXchange, the time could not be better for ideas, talent and formats from abroad to help buoy and diversify American skeds.

"Eleventh Hour," an action series that went only four episodes on the ITV network in Britain, is being refashioned for American audiences by Jerry Bruckheimer's company and premieres in October on CBS. The 1960s counterculture sci-fi "The Prisoner," which also aired on ITV, is being re-imagined for AMC with Caviezel and McKellen. Another McGovern-scripted hit, "The Street" on the BBC, is being re-visioned for the U.S. by Fox. All are in the Granada America catalog.

"It's extremely gratifying that the quality of the ITV library and our company's substantial financial commitment to co-production ventures in the U.S. have helped to attract top-tier talent such as Robert Duvall to 'Cracker,' Jerry Bruckheimer to 'Eleventh Hour' and other marquee names to a broad array of projects," Granada America CEO Paul Buccieri said.

"The Prisoner" -- a six-hour mini, which AMC is co-producing with ITV Prods. and Granada International -- is slated to premiere in 2009.

Caviezel will play the title role of Number Six, a part originally made famous by the project's creator Patrick McGoohan. Two-time Oscar nominee Ian McKellen will co-star as Number Two.

"Jim Caviezel and Ian McKellen bring an incredible level of talent to the project, and we're honored they are taking on these important roles, said Charlie Collier, AMC's general manager and executive vice president.

Granada parent ITV Worldwide also is tripling its development and acquisitions investment fund to expand its work with indie producers.

"Our philosophy is to enable creative people to be creative -- to make compelling entertainment for ITV Worldwide to distribute. We have seriously increased funds to co-finance and gap-finance productions," ITV Worldwide president Peter Iacono, a transplanted American and former Sony TV exec, told reporters last week in London. He did not specify the sum, but ITV and the BBC already are the two biggest spenders on production in the U.K.

As for TNT's rationale for redoing "Cracker," it might well be that a strong male-led series will play nicely in the mix with the cabler's established female-driven hits "The Closer" and "Saving Grace."

The deal for "Cracker" was facilitated by Greg Lipstone, Granada's rep at ICM.