EXCLUSIVE: Oscar winner Akiva Goldsman has signed a two-year exclusive overall deal with HBO. The first project under the pact is an untitled Western drama about Doc Holliday, the famed gambler and gunslinger of the Old West. Feature scribes Adam Cooper and Bill Collage (Accepted) will write the script and will executive produce with Goldsman and his producing partner Kerry Foster. Ron Howard is attached to direct the potential pilot. His father, Rance Howard, will serve as co-producer along with his wife Judy Howard. The project is inspired by Mary Doria Russell’s critically praised novel Doc, which was published in May. Doc Holliday is often portrayed as an ailing sidekick (he died from tuberculosis at age 36), best known for his friendship with Wyatt Earp and his involvement in the Gunfight at the O.K. Corral (Val Kilmer portrayed him in the movie Tombstone). But the HBO project aims to put Holliday front and center as the series protagonist, an educated Southern gentleman and dentist by trade, thrust into the cruel and violent world of the Old West in order to salvage his ailing health. The series will feature the never-before-explored love triangle between Holliday, his prostitute wife, Kate Elder and best friend, Wyatt Earp — all set against the lawlessness and desperation of a rapidly changing society.

Goldsman describes the project as “all in the family” when it comes to auspices. His partner at Weed Road Foster came upon the source material. Goldsman mentioned the idea to frequent collaborator Ron Howard while the two were discussing their latest project, The Dark Tower. Howard is set to direct and Goldsman is writing the adaptation of the Stephen King’s book series, which is looking for a home as a feature trilogy and an accompanying limited TV series after being put in turnaround by NBCUniversal. Goldsman, who quipped that he is following the rule “work with Ron whenever possible” after his first collaboration with the director, A Beautiful Mind, earned him a writing Oscar, also penned the Howard-directed The Da Vinci Code, Angels & Demons and Cinderella Man. Howard expressed interest in the Western TV project, and it turned out that his father, veteran actor Rance Howard, has a fascination with Doc Holliday. So Rance Howard and his wife came on board as co-producers and Ron Howard became attached as director of the potential pilot. (Howard, whose company with Brian Grazer Imagine is very active in TV, has not directed a TV pilot yet.) Meanwhile, Foster’s husband, Adam Cooper, and his writing partner, Bill Collage, came on board to write the Western. Originally, the project was eyed as a mini-series and was pitched as such to HBO. The pay cable network suggested turning it into a series instead.

Goldsman is not a TV novice. He made a stealth entry into series with Fox’s sci-fi drama Fringe. Several years ago, writer-producer Goldsman was looking to branch out into directing. His friend J.J. Abrams offered him to write and direct an episode from the first season of Fringe, which Abrams co-created and is executive producing. Goldsman did it and then stuck around as an “eccentric uncle”, as he put it. He continues to serve as a consulting producer on the critically praised but low-rated drama, occasionally writing, co-writing or directing episodes. “Nobody watches us but I’m tremendously proud of the show and the work we’re done,” Goldman said of Fringe. “We managed to follow that new trend of serialized storytelling. And HBO is the best in the business for that.” Goldsman had been looking to expand into TV in a bigger way. “I think that the line between film and television is getting blurrier and blurrier, and I think that’s pretty exciting creatively,” he said. Because of HBO’s approach to storytelling, it was the place he wanted to do it. Especially because of his long history with fantasy and sci-fi and the way HBO treats genre series with 2 shows he likes, True Blood and especially Game Of Thrones (“I worship at the alter of that show,” Goldsman said.) “What I love about HBO is that storytelling seems to be king and that genre seems to be almost irrelevant,” he said. Also appealing to Goldsman in signing an overall deal with HBO was the opportunity to be a writing, non-writing producer and director. He does plan to create his first series under the pact, most likely in his favorite mold of character-driven drama within a genre framework. As for Dark Tower, “we’re still pushing the boulder uphill,” Goldsman said but is optimistic that the ambitious project will find a home “very soon.” The writing duo of Cooper and Collage, repped by WME, have worked on over two dozen scripts for major studios, including New York Minute, Wrong Turn, Ransom and Tower Heist. They most recently wrote Exodus for the Chernin Co., Marco Polo for Frances Lawrence and Moby Dick for Timor Bekmambetov at Universal. Goldsman and Howard are with CAA, which also co-repped Russell’s book with Dystel & Goderich Literary Management.