It had been a great last couple of months for James Gandolfini and his HBO-based Attaboy Prods. They set up three major TV projects, whose future is now uncertain following the actor-producer’s untimely death today at age 51. In April, Gandolfini got Bone Wars at HBO Films, reuniting with his The Incredible Burt Wonderstone co-star Steve Carell. It is a fun project, in which the two were to play famous post-Civil War paleontologists Edward Drinker Cope and Othniel Charles Marsh, whose notorious fossil race led to the discovery of more than 160 dinosaurs. The film was in nascent stages, with no script written yet. “Unbelievably sad news. A fine man,” Carell tweeted today.
Then in May, HBO gave the green light to Criminal Justice, a limited series starring Gandolfini in his post-Sopranos series return. The project, written by Richard Price directed by Oscar winner Steven Zaillian, was originally piloted as a traditional drama series last year. After HBO passed on the pilot in February, it garnered interest from other nets. Meanwhile Gandolfini and Zaillian decided that a limited series would better serve the narrative, leading to a seven-episode order at HBO. “A real man, like they don’t make anymore,” Zaillian said today of Gandolfini. “Honest, humble, loyal, complicated, as grateful for his success as he was unaffected by it, as respectful as he was respected, as generous as he was gifted.”
Loosely inspired by the 2008 BBC series, Criminal Justice stars Gandolfini as an ambulance-chasing New York City attorney who gets in over-his-head when he takes on the case of a Pakistani (Riz Ahmed) accused of murdering a girl on the Upper West Side. All sides indicated it is too soon to make decisions or even discuss the feature of the series, which had been reworked as a limited series and was yet to film any episodes beyond the pilot. While the character played by Gandolfini is central to the ongoing storyline, I’ve learned that the pilot episode centers on Ahmed’s character, and Gandolfini only appears in the last minute for the final scene in the pilot, making recasting an option should HBO decide to proceed with the series as originally planned.
And just two weeks ago, in one of the first buys for this coming broadcast development cycle, CBS gave a script commitment to Taxi-22, an adaptation of the French Canadian comedy, with Gandolfini attached to executive produce through Attaboy. That is a promising new chapter for what has been a passion project for Gandolfini, whose company had been developing the property at HBO for the past three years. The project remains in development, but it won’t be the same without Gandolfini, Taxi-22 executive producer Clark Peterson said. “We are devastated. He was a great man and a unique embodiment of creativity, humanity, and humility. I can confirm that the development of Taxi-22 will continue, but we’ll always be flying in the missing-man formation.”
Gandolfini and Attaboy, who had been at HBO since The Sopranos in one of the longest TV producing relationships in the business, had several other projects in various stages of development, including Big Dead Place, an HBO drama based on Nicholas Johnson’s memoir, and HBO Films’ Eating With The Enemy, in which Gandolfini was to play Bobby Egan, a New Jersey rib joint owner who became involved in back channel negotiations with North Korea to stop producing nuclear weapons in the 1990s. Pat Healy wrote the script based on a book, and the project, a co-production with Robert De Niro’s Tribeca Prods., had been looking for a director. I hear there was a recent reading with Gandolfini and Hangover‘s Ken Jeong and that De Niro had been eying the role of Bobby’s father. “Jim Gandolfini was my friend,” Healy tweeted today. “I saw him on Friday. When I went to shake his hand and wish him a good trip, he gave me a big hug. I’ll miss him.”
While The Sopranos movie fans so passionately pleaded for never happened, it was fitting that the last project with Gandolfini to premiere before his death was the May 27 Nickelodeon kids film Nicky Deuce, which reunited many members of the Sopranos gang: Gandolfini, Tony Sirico, Michael Imperioli, Steve Schirripa and Vincent Curatola. “Jim was one of my best friends, he was there whenever I needed him,” Sirico said today. “God bless him.”