In its first major development decision since taking the programming reins at Showtime as entertainment president, David Nevins is close to greenlighting his first pilot, a psychological thriller, from former 24 executive producer/showrunner Howard Gordon. Ben Affleck, hot off the No.1 opening of his crime caper The Town, is circling to direct. He has read the script and is very interested contingent on availability. If dates could be worked out, this would mark Affleck’s TV directorial debut.
Tentatively titled Homeland, the drama is based on the Israeli format Hatufim aka Prisoners of War from Keshet Broadcasting, the Israeli company behind Fox’s midseason comedy series Mixed Signals. Gordon and fellow 24 executive producer Alex Gansa co-wrote the project on spec with Gideon Raff, the creator of the original series.
20th Century Fox TV, where Gordon is under an overall deal, acquired the rights to Prisoners of War for Gordon and Gansa in March, shortly after the original series’ launch in Israel had drawn a lot of attention. Featuring an all-star cast, the Keshet series tells the story of three soldiers who return home from 17 years in Syrian captivity and must readjust to life in Israel and reunite with their families. It went on to win the Israeli equivalent of an Emmy for dramatic series.
In the American version, 10 years after two American solders had gone missing during the invasion of Baghdad, one is recovered during a drone strike on an Al-Qaeda safe house in Afghanistan, the only one to survive the bombing. He is given a hero’s welcome home where he is reunited with his family. At the same time, a female CIA operative who had spent a lot of time in Afghanistan receives a tip from an informant that “the American prisoner has been turned and he is the tip of the spear, leading the next big strike against the American homeland,” Gordon said. The solder and the CIA agent trying to expose him are the two leads on the show, which Gordon said “combines some of the suspense elements of the thriller genre but it also has a wonderful family drama at the center of it.”
From the get-go, Gordon and Gansa envisioned Homeland as a cable series, so its development was shepherded through 20th TV’s cable division Fox21 under new president Bert Salke. It marks the first pilot order for Salke as well as Nevins.
Nevins, who joined Showtime in July, had known about the project for awhile through Gordon and Gansa whom he had known for a dozen years, most recently in his previous job as president of Imagine TV which co-produced 24 with 20th TV. He went aggressively after Homeland after reading the spec script, which was taken out in the cable marketplace, attracted by the intensity of the thriller aspect of it and the deeply personal look at a marriage. Homeland, which Gordon, Gansa and Raff executive produce with Avi Nir and Ron Telem, marks new territory for Showtime as it is an expansive, multiple-lead show set in several different places.
It is usually a smart move for creative executives to turn to auspices they know well for their first major piece of development. In a similar fashion, days after she joined HBO as entertainment president, Sue Naegle made her first significant buy, dark comedy script Hung, which she had shepherded at UTA where Hung co-writer Colette Burson is a client. It worked out well: Hung went to pilot, then to series, and was recently renewed for a third season.
This is the second major sale pending for Gordon. He and Ryan Murphy are behind a high-concept procedural that is nearing a put pilot commitment at Fox. Gordon, Gansa, Raff and Keshet are repped by WME.