With United States’ 16th President Abraham Lincoln back in the cultural zeitgeist with Steven Spielberg’s feature biopic, NBC hopes to do the same on the TV side with the nation’s first president. The network has put in development George Washington (working title), a drama series from Oscar-winning writer David Seidler (The King’s Speech), Barry Levinson, Tom Fontana and NBCU International Prods’ Carnival Films & Television, the company behind phenom Downton Abbey.
After taking on Britain’s King George VI in King’s Speech, U.K. writer Seidler will now tackle the American commander who led the country’s war for independence from the British Kingdom. He will write the script based on the best-selling and Pulitzer Prize-winning biography by Ron Chernow, Washington: A Life. Levinson intends to direct the pilot.
George Washington is described as an intimate look at the enigmatic leader who became the father of a nation on one side of the Atlantic and a terrorist on the other, a man to be eliminated at all costs by the British Crown. As episodes move back and forth through the war hero and President’s life and tell the little-known and unlikely story of his survival and triumph, his true character is revealed for the first time. And he is not the man who chopped down the cherry tree. “There’s George Washington the national icon, gazing out from the dollar bill with his mouthful of supposedly wooden teeth, and then there’s the George Washington who had an adulterous affair with his best friend’s wife,” Seidler said. “The George Washington obsessed with social status, finely-tailored clothes, his image. Not an icon, a very human human-being, who learned how to lead. That’s the man I want to understand.”
Seidler, Levinson and Fontana will executive produce with Carnival’s managing director Gareth Neame and Jason Sosnoff, Head of Production & Development at Levinson’s Baltimore Pictures. “What’s so interesting is here was a man who was more instrumental to what our country is today and more famous than any other figure in our history, and yet no one knows anything about him,” Levinson said. “We know the myth of the man, but the reality was he was a flawed and troubled character who overcame his flaws to become one of the foremost leaders of this nation.”
The 75-year-old Seidler, who became then the oldest Oscar winner for best original screenplay when he got the award last year for King’s Speech, now may become the oldest show creator in his US series debut with George Washington. He is with WME, manager Jeff Aghassi, and UK agent Greg Hunt.
This is the second high-profile project for Carnival at NBC — the company is also behind the network’s upcoming series Dracula. Levinson/Fontana’s BBC America series Copper, created by Fontana, was recently renewed for a second season. The duo is repped by UTA.