EXCLUSIVE: It’s ladies’ season at HBO as the pay cable network is putting in development another high-profile project fronted by a top comedic actress. HBO just picked up a comedy from veteran Simpsons writer-producer Tim Long with Molly Shannon attached to star. The untitled comedy would star the Saturday Night Live alumna as a nun who makes the difficult decision to leave the convent and confront life in the outside world. Shannon’s character became a nun after getting her heart broken at 18. Now she is an utterly innocent woman in her early 40s who has never had sex and has to discover the modern world in all of its tawdriness. “It’s James Joyce meets Judd Apatow — a female 40-Year-Old Virgin with a huge dollop of Catholic weirdness thrown in,” Long said. Shannon, of course, knows a thing or two about playing offbeat characters of the Catholic faith having played awkward school girl Mary Katherine Gallagher on SNL. The show will also showcase Shannon’s singing talent. It “will be outrageously funny — it’s Molly Shannon, for crying out loud — but it’ll also be a serious look at a woman who’s 40 but emotionally still in her teens and who needs to get wise very quickly,” Long said. The show is not going to shy away from thorny issues such as religion and sexuality, which was a main reason for Long and Shannon to take it to HBO. Long will be writing the project, which he is executive producing with Shannon and her manager Steven Levy of Framework.

Gersh-repped Shannon spent 6 years on SNL and was featured on The Women of SNL special on NBC last night. She now co-stars in the musical Promises, Promises, which marks her Broadway debut, and will next be seen in Jake Kasdan’s comedy feature Bad Teacher. Long, repped by CAA and Rain Management’s Beth Stine, was a longtime executive producer on The Simpsons who is now serving as a consulting producer on the long-running Fox animated series in order to focus on development. As part of that, he took an exploratory meeting with Shannon and recalls that “I came out of the meeting with the evangelical need to come up with something for her.” He did. The Molly Shannon/Tim Long project joins the Armando Iannucci comedy Veep, which HBO recently picked up to pilot with Julia Louis-Dreyfus in talks to star. HBO also is close to picking up another female-centered comedy pilot, Kate Robin’s Fall/Spring starring Tea Leoni. Additionally, HBO shot the comedy pilot Tilda starring Diane Keaton, which is still under consideration, and the Mike White/Laura Dern comedy series Enlightened is set to premiere next year.