EXCLUSIVE: After ordering contemporary versions of Romeo & Juliet set in New York and Chicago the last two pilot seasons, ABC is going for the real thing this year, picking up for development a retelling of William Shakespeare’s classic tale set in Renaissance Verona. Catherine Hardwicke, who directed the feature adaptation of another story about star-crossed lovers belonging to clans that are at odds with each other, Twilight, is in talks to direct the potential Romeo & Juliet pilot in what would mark her TV directorial debut. Feature producers Todd Garner (Paul Blart: Mall Cop, the upcoming The Zookeeper) and Wyck Godfrey & Marty Bowen (the Twilight franchise, Dear John) are behind the series adaptation, which is being written by World Trade Center scribe Andrea Berloff. Romeo & Juliet, which is produced by ABC Studios, follows the famous love story while also pealing away the curtain on the impetuous, incestuous, bloody and violent relationships during the Renaissance in Verona. In addition to Garner, Godfrey and Bowen, Sean Robin will also executive produce the project.
While period dramas are in fashion with AMC’s Mad Men, HBO’s Boardwalk Empire; AMC’s pilot Hell on Wheels, TNT’s Hollywood & Vine as well as ABC’s own 1960s Pan Am drama in development, costume dramas have been harder for the networks to pull off. Coincidentally, Showtime, which has been successful in the arena with The Tudors, is prepping The Borgias, a drama series which, like Romeo & Juliet, is set in Renaissance Italy. This is not the first Shakespeare work that Hardwicke would be tackling. The director, now in post-production on Red Riding Hood, has also been attached to direct Emile Hirsch in a possible feature adaptation of the Bard’s play Hamlet. She has proven she understands teen angst with Twilight as well as her breakthrough directorial debut, Thirteen. Romeo & Juliet would reunite Hardwicke with Godfrey and Bowen who have produced two of her feature directorial efforts, Twilight and The Nativity Story.
The pickup of Romeo & Juliet, which has received a script order, follows ABC’s pilot orders to Matadors this past season and Empire State the year before. Both were contemporary takes on the Shakespeare classic: Matadors was about 2 long-feuding Chicago families who battle against each other as one populates the DA’s office and the other manages the city’s most influential private law firm, while Empire State was about a blue-collar family and a wealthy one who collide over a Romeo and Juliet-style romance in Manhattan. And the year before, in 2008, ABC ordered to pilot The Prince of Motor City, a gothic, family melodrama with overtones of Hamlet set in contemporary Detroit. There have been about 40 major screen adaptations of Romeo and Juliet, interestingly, none of them a TV series. The notable big-screen efforts include Baz Luhrmann’s 1996 MTV-style Romeo + Juliet starring Leonardo DiCaprio and Claire Danes, and the one I grew up with, the 1968 Franco Zeffirelli film featuring Nino Rota’s haunting score.