EXCLUSIVE: In his first foray into the premium TV series marketplace, uber producer Dick Wolf is prepping American Babylon, a period drama chronicling the epic story of the creation of Las Vegas – the American Dream written in blood and neon. He has partnered on the project with long-time collaborator Tom Thayer, Pulitzer Prize winner and The Pacific writer Robert Schenkkan and The Pacific creator Bruce C. McKenna.
The marquee pitch, from Wolf Entertainment and Universal Television, will be taken out to premium cable networks and streamers later this month.
Created by Schenkkan and written by him and McKenna, American Babylon is inspired by “The Money and the Power: The Making of Las Vegas and Its Hold on America“ by Sally Denton & Roger Morris, to which Universal Television has acquired the rights.
It chronicles the rise of Las Vegas through the intersecting struggles of three families: Young mobster Sammy Wise and his iron-willed wife, Esther, leading Organized Crime’s takeover of Sin City; Jefferson Delandro, a fiercely ambitious Black businessman, his resourceful wife Edda May, and their rebellious daughter, Bella, fighting the structural racism that made Vegas the “Mississippi of the West;” and Michael Arcona, a combat veteran and aspiring reporter, committed to finding the truth, no matter what it costs.
Mixing fictional characters and historical figures, including Lena Horne, JFK, The Rat Pack, and the elusive Howard Hughes, the textured series with contemporary sensibility explores the big dreams and last chances, the power, corruption, and redemption of the “Miracle in the Desert” – Las Vegas.
Wolf and Thayer, who won an Emmy for executive producing HBO’s Bury My Heart At Wounded Knee, executive produce alongside Schenkkan, who will write the pilot and multiple episodes, and McKenna, who will serve as showrunner.
“I have always been fascinated by Las Vegas, a city that has the most colorful history of any in our country,” Wolf said. “Using the definitive source materials written by Sally Denton and Roger Morris, adapted by two award-winning writer/producers, Rob Schenkkan and Bruce McKenna, we are creating a diverse three-family history that spans generations, so viewers will see the growth of Vegas through their stories. The last time I teamed with Tom Thayer on a scripted project, we produced Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee, which earned a record 17 Emmy nominations and won for Outstanding Television Movie. It’s a high bar, but I think we can clear it with American Babylon.”
American Babylon stems from the mega new five-year overall deal Wolf, who also won a drama series Emmy for the mothership Law & Order series, signed earlier this year for his Wolf Entertainment to remain based at Universal TV, a division of Universal Studio Group.
A broadcast institution, Wolf will have seven drama series on NBC and CBS next season, part of three formidable franchises, Law & Order and Chicago on NBC and FBI on CBS.
“I consider myself a broadcast television supplier,” Wolf said two years ago, adding, “if I had the right show for a streamer, I’d be happy to do it there.”
With Dick Wolf series, such as Law & Order: SVU, performing very well on streaming, there will certainly be appetite for the prolific producer’s first premium series. The list of networks and platforms interested in American Babylon will likely include NBCU streamer Peacock whose President of Original Content Bill McGoldrick told Deadline last week that “we definitely want to do something with Dick Wolf.”
Schenkkan is a 1992 Pulitzer-winning writer for The Kentucky Cycle and 2014 Tony Award winner (Best Play, All the Way, starring Bryan Cranston as LBJ). In addition to The Pacific, the three-time Emmy nominee’s TV credits include The Andromeda Strain on A&E, which was executive produced by Thayer. Features include The Quiet American and Hacksaw Ridge.
“The ‘pursuit of happiness’ has always been a cornerstone of the American Dream,” Schenkkan said. “For a long time, I’ve wanted to explore how that impulse unfolded in this epic story of the rise of Las Vegas.”
Emmy winner McKenna created HBO’s The Pacific, executive produced by Steven Spielberg and Tom Hanks, which won 8 Emmys, including Outstanding Miniseries. He additionally received an Emmy nomination for writing one of several episodes of HBO’s acclaimed Band of Brothers, also from Spielberg and Hanks.
Thayer has been Wolf’s partner on the unscripted side since 2012. The duo are behind such series as Cold Justice, Criminal Confessions and Inside the FBI: New York.