Hulu has given a straight-to-series order to Dopesick, an eight-episode limited series based on Beth Macy’s bestselling book, with Michael Keaton attached to star and executive produce. Barry Levinson is set to direct the project which hails from Empire co-creator/exec producer Danny Strong, The Handmaid’s Tale executive producer Warren Littlefield and Fox 21 Television Studios.
Written by Strong and slated to premiere in 2021, Dopesick is described as an ambitious, harrowing, and compelling look into the epicenter of America’s struggle with Opioid addiction. It takes viewers from a distressed Virginia mining community, to the hallways of the DEA, and to the opulence of “one percenter” Big Pharma Manhattan. The unsparing yet deeply human portraits of the various affected families and their intersecting stories hold up a mirror to where America is right now, while shining a hopeful light on the heroes battling the worst drug epidemic in American history.
Keaton will play Samuel Finnix, an old-school doctor who approaches his practice with kindness and compassion, but finds himself embroiled in Big Pharma’s deadly secret.
The project’s road to the screen started in 2018 when, in a bidding situation, Fox 21 and studio-based Littlefield optioned Macy’s book Dopesick: Dealers, Doctors, and the Drug Company that Addicted America to develop for television.
“Although we were sharply aware of and empathetic to the horrifying pain caused by the Opioid crisis for millions in this country, we were blown away when Warren Littlefield showed us Beth Macy’s book Dopesick,” said Fox 21 President Bert Salke. “Consequently, Danny Strong had been crafting his own telling of the opiate epidemic and in typical Danny form, it was mesmerizing,”
Strong, who is under an overall deal at 20th Century Fox TV, was loaned out to Fox 21 for Dopesick, which was taken out and landed at FX for development. This past February, the project moved from FX to Disney sibling Hulu whose executives showed great enthusiasm for the concept. There, Dopesick quickly gained momentum, with Levinson and Keaton coming on board.
“The minute we met with Danny Strong about Beth Macy’s bestselling book, we immediately knew it was the kind of groundbreaking series we just had to bring to Hulu,” said the streamer’s SVP of originals Craig Erwich. “Danny’s unflinching and deeply compelling take on America’s opioid crisis will bring to life one of the most important stories impacting our culture. Add to that the cinematic vision of Barry Levinson and the extraordinary talent of Michael Keaton, and we’ve got an undeniable series that perfectly embodies our Hulu Originals brand.”
Strong and Levinson will executive produce with Keaton, John Goldwyn (Dexter), Littlefield via his The Littlefield Company, Macy and Karen Rosenfelt (Twilight).
“The fact that Warren and Danny are collaborating on this is a studio’s dream. Together with Barry Levinson and Michael Keaton, we have every reason to believe this important story will be one of the tv events of the coming year,” Salke said.
Littlefield has an existing relationship at Hulu where he executive produces the Emmy-winning drama series The Handmaid’s Tale and also exec produced the recent series Reprisal.
For fellow Emmy winner Strong, this marks the first Hulu series.
“I’m so thrilled to tell this story with a company as bold and as daring as Hulu,” Strong said. “The opioid crisis is one of the most important stories of our time and I’m honored to not only pay tribute to its victims but to shine a light on the heroes that fought back. Laws were broken and many lies were told. The system failed us and Dopesick is going to show everyone how it all happened.”
Dopesick marks Keaton’s biggest television commitment since his starring role in the 2013 TNT miniseries The Company. Oscar-nominated for his lead role in Best Picture winner Birdman, Keaton will next be seen in Aaron Sorkin’s The Trial of Chicago 7, Sony’s Marvel action film Morbius and Martin Campbell’s action thriller The Asset.
Macy also is the author of Factory Man: How One Furniture Maker Battled Offshoring, Stayed Local — and Helped Save an American Town and Truevine: Two Brothers, a Kidnapping, and a Mother’s Quest: A True Story of the Jim Crow South.
Dopesick joins Hulu limited series The Act and Catch-22 along with the upcoming Nine Perfect Strangers and The Dropout.