The cable network is developing a series adaptation of Richard Russo’s novel Straight Man with Odenkirk set to star as William Henry Devereaux, Jr., the unlikely chairman of the English department in a badly underfunded college in the Pennsylvania rust belt.
AMC has ordered scripts for the project, and if greenlit, is eyeing a 2023 bow.
The project comes from Aaron Zelman and Paul Lieberstein, who are adapting the book and would serve as co-showrunners.
Zelman was a supervising producer on HBO’s Silicon Valley and a co-exec producer on series including Netflix’s Bloodline and AMC’s The Killing. He has also worked on series including Damages, Law & Order and Criminal Minds.
Lieberstein is best known for starring as embattled HR rep Toby Flenderson on The Office, which he also exec produced. He has also exec produced series including Netflix’s Space Force, The Newsroom and Ghosted.
Sony Pictures’ Television TriStar TV and Mark Johnson’s Gran Via, which is behind Better Call Saul and Breaking Bad, are producing.
Zelman, Lieberstein, Odenkirk, Peter Farrelly, who is on board to direct, Richard Russo, Naomi Odenkirk and Marc Provissiero are executive producers.
It would mark Odenkirk’s third series for the network after Better Call Saul and Breaking Bad. The actor, who had a heart attack last year during filming of the last season of his legal dramedy, is also developing docu-style comedy Guru Nation with his old pal David Cross for Paramount+.
Russo, who won the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction for his 2001 novel Empire Falls, published Straight Man in 1997 via Random House. The book is a mid-life crisis tale set at Railton College and told in the first person by Devereaux, whose reluctance is partly rooted in his character – he is a born anarchist – and partly in the fact that his department is more savagely divided than the Balkans.
In the course of a single week, Devereaux will have his nose mangled by an angry colleague, imagine his wife is having an affair with his dean, wonder if a curvaceous adjunct is trying to seduce him with peach pits, and threaten to execute a goose on local television. All this while coming to terms with his philandering father, the dereliction of his youthful promise, and the ominous failure of certain vital body functions.
Odenkirk said, “I loved Paul and Aaron’s take on Richard’s excellent, entertaining novel. Once again a project with AMC with a focus on character depth and sensitivity. This milieu (academia) seems very pertinent to the conversations we’re all having. I am drawn to the tone of humanity and humor in the novel and I look forward to playing this role – something lighter than my recent projects but still closely observed and smart.”
“Bob Odenkirk is just as good as it gets. We feel so fortunate to be developing a new show that would keep him at AMC after Better Call Saul and Breaking Bad, two iconic series that have been beloved by millions of fans and helped define AMC and its reputation for unforgettable characters and high-quality storytelling for adults,” added Dan McDermott, president of entertainment and AMC Studios for AMC Networks. “We’re also thrilled to be working again with our partners at Sony Pictures Television and Mark Johnson’s Gran Via to explore this compelling material.”