EXCLUSIVE: House star Hugh Laurie is returning to primetime as the lead of another drama series named after the complex doctor at its center. Chance, a hot package that includes author Kem Nunn, Room director Lenny Abrahamson, showrunner Alexandra Cunningham and producer Michael London, has landed at Hulu with a two-season, 20-episode order for a late 2016 premiere. The series hails from Fox 21 TV Studios, marking the cable studio’s big entry into the SVOD space. It also represents a major move for Hulu as it is looking to establish itself as an original series player. The streaming service landed Chance by stepping up in a very competitive situation, bidding against established traditional networks, much the way Netflix nabbed House of Cards with a two-season order several years ago.
“It’s one of the rare situations when you have a burgeoning network that is saying, ‘we are going to plant our flag with this series’,” said Fox 21 TV Studios president Bert Salke, acknowledging Hulu’s Mike Hopkins and Craig Erwich for their role in making the deal. “It’s also a beginning of what hopefully will be a new business for us with new partners, making this an even more exciting time for content creators.”
Based on Nunn’s novel, Chance is described as a provocative psychological thriller that focuses on Eldon Chance (Laurie), a San Francisco-based forensic neuropsychiatrist who reluctantly gets sucked into a violent and dangerous world of mistaken identity, police corruption and mental illness. After an ill-advised decision regarding an alluring patient who may or may not be struggling with a multiple personality disorder, Chance finds himself in the crosshairs of her abusive spouse, who also happens to be a ruthless police detective. In over his head, Chance’s decent into the city’s shadowy underbelly, all while navigating the waters of a contentious divorce and the tribulations of his teenage daughter, soon spirals into an ever deepening exploration of one of mankind’s final frontiers — the shadowy, undiscovered country of the human mind.
Nunn and Cunningham (Desperate Housewives, Aquarius) wrote the TV adaption of Nunn’s novel and will executive produce, with Cunningham serving as showrunner. Abrhamson will executive produce and direct several episodes. Michael London (Milk) executive produces through his Groundswell Prods. Brian Grazer (Empire) also executive produces.
The project had been in the works since Chance was published in 2014. It was put together by WME, which reps Nunn, with London, who had been eyeing the book for a potential feature adaptation, and Cunningham, who considers noir her favorite genre, quickly coming on board. With Cunningham at the time under a development deal at 20th TV, London under a first-look deal at the studio’s cable division Fox 21 and Nunn working on Fox 21’s FX drama Sons of Anarchy, Fox 21 felt like a natural home for Chance. Salke immediately sparked to the idea, being a self-professed Kem Nunn fanatic with Nunn’s seminal Tapping the Source as one of his favorite books. In fact, Salke already had been pursuing the author for development. A spec pilot script by Kenn and Cunningham was commissioned.
Salke felt that was a tall order. “It was very challenging to get the depth and fullness of the book, but they did a phenomenal job, surpassing all expectations,” he said.
Meanwhile, after a lengthy courtship and careful consideration, Laurie, who had been the choice for the lead from the get-go, signed on to star some 18 months after he was first approached. In the years since House ended its run on Fox, the Golden Globe-winning actor had been heavily pursued to headline a new series but had turned down every offer. With Chance, he is all in, and already is actively working with the other executive producers. “Hugh has very strong feelings, and he will be involved in every aspect of production,” Salke said.
The script garnered strong interest from major directors, with Abrahamson emerging as the clear choice for the job based on his acclaimed work on awards contender Room, which has three Golden Globe nominations, including for best picture drama. With a pilot script and a map of the first season, which will follow the arc in Nunn’s book, as well as future seasons, the project was taken to the marketplace, triggering a heated bidding and eventually landing at Hulu. I hear the corporate tie between Hulu, which is partly owned by Fox 21 parent 21st Century Fox, and the studio, was not a factor, with Hulu securing the project by offering a big commitment.
Casting of the other roles on the show is already underway, with production likely to begin in the spring.
Hulu has been mounting a major push in high-end original programming, recently landing a Golden Globe nomination for one of its first major efforts, the Jason Reitman series Casual. Coming up is the Stephen King/JJ Abrams limited series 11/22/63 starring James Franco.
Nunn has developed a big cult following for his “surf-noir” novels, starting with the debut Tapping the Source. In TV, in addition to his work on SOA, he co-created with David Milch John From Cincinnati for HBO.
Nunn, Abrahamson, Laurie, who has been recurring on the HBO comedy Veep, Cunningham, who created the US adaptation of UK’s Prime Suspect, and London, who recently produced awards contender Trumbo, are repped by WME. Abrahamson is repped by Rachel Holroyd from Casarotto Ramsay and Laurie is repped by Christian Hodell from Hamilton Hodell. Nunn also is with Echo LakeManagement.