EXCLUSIVE: While he left the White House to return to Hollywood, Kal Penn is not leaving politics completely behind. Penn’s new project for NBC will be a single-camera workplace comedy set at the United Nations, with Penn playing a key assistant to the U.S. ambassador. Writer-playwright-comedian Raphael Bob-Waksberg has been tapped to write the UMS-produced comedy, which is eyed for next fall. Scot Armstrong and Ravi Nandan’s American Work, which has a first-look deal with UMS, has come on board to co-produce the comedy, with Armstrong and Nandan executive producing alongside Penn and his manager Dan Spilo.
Going for a single-camera workplace comedy on NBC is not surprising — Penn told Mike Fleming in an interview earlier this month that “the shows I’ve most loved in the last couple of years were NBC’ 30 Rock and The Office”, both workplace comedies. And NBC “was the network we felt most in sync from sensibility perspective,” Spilo told me. Penn and Spilo met with the TV networks last year when Penn took a break from his job as White House associate director in the Office of Public Engagement to film the upcoming A Very Harold & Kumar 3D Christmas. Ironically, Penn and Spilo made the NBC deal with entertainment president Angela Bromstad and head of comedy Jeff Ingold, neither of whom are at the network now that the pact is coming into effect. But both new NBC topper Bob Greenblatt and head of comedy Tal Rabinowitz turned out to be Kal Penn fans too, said Spilo, who developed the idea for the show with Penn. The two read a lot of scripts until settling on writer/Upright Citizens Brigade performer Bob-Waksberg, who had penned several pilot scripts, including one set at a governor’s office. At the same time, American Work was making a script deal with Bob-Waksberg. And separately, via its UMS deal, the company had reached out to Penn and Spilo to partner on the Penn comedy. In the end, all combined their efforts. The comedy will reflect some of Penn’s experiences working on the campaign trail as well as at the White House. “Maybe this is a better way for him to serve the people — being on NBC and making people laugh,” Armstrong quipped. Bob-Waksberg and American Work are repped by CAA, Penn by Gersh. Bob-Waksberg is managed by Prinicpato-Young.