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January 9, 1995, Monday

CBS turning to Coppola, Ephron, Allen

Stephen Battaglio
The Hollywood Reporter

CBS is looking to shake off its recent ratings declines with a raft of series and projects that will draw on such big names as Nora Ephron, Woody Allen, Gary David Goldberg, Don Johnson, John Grisham and Francis Ford Coppola.

Appearing before the Television Critics Assn.'s winter tour in Pasadena, Tortorici focused on CBS' future rather than the reasons for the network's rocky start in the first half of the 1994-95 season, but acknowledged the network needed "a new generation of hits" and to broaden its appeal to younger viewers.

To that end, Tortorici announced a deal with writer-director Ephron to develop a series that "combines the elements of Nora's films from 'When Harry Met Sally . . .' to 'Sleepless in Seattle.' " The sitcom will be produced by Carsey-Werner to be available for fall 1995. The network also has a deal with Larry Levin for a romantic comedy from Disney called "If Not For You," which follows the courtship and marriage of a couple in their mid-30s. Tortorici said the spec script for the project "set off a frenzy in this town."

Other youth-oriented projects on the development slate include a new series from Goldberg, based on a true story of a girls' basketball team from Massachusetts. The series will be the first television effort from the "Dream Team" of Jeffrey Katzenberg, Steven Spielberg and David Geffen, who have a partnership with ABC. Tortorici also cited previously reported deals with Melissa Joan Hart of Nickelodeon's "Clarissa" and Francis Capra Jr., who will star in "My Guys" from Witt-Thomas Prods.

CBS has also signed Peter Falk and Allen to star in a remake of Neil Simon's "The Sunshine Boys." Tortorici said Simon will rewrite the script to suit the younger stars. Tortorici dismissed the notion that Allen's failure to draw viewers with his recent "Don't Drink the Water" telefilm for ABC indicated a limited appeal with the TV audience.

"It's a different project," Tortorici said.

The first project for the network's previously announced deal with Coppola will be a remake of the Robert Lewis Stevenson classic "Kidnapped." The project will feature "a star of great magnitude," according to Tortorici.

Tortorici said the network has also picked up a pilot from "Lois & Clark" creator Deborah Joy Levine called "Courtroom," and has acquired the rights to Grisham's "The Client" for development as a series. The network also has projects under consideration for former football star Howie Long, and a 10 p.m. drama from "Forrest Gump" screenplay author Eric Roth.

A previously announced deal with Johnson will be a possible drama series based on a Hunter Thompson story "Off-Duty Cop."

While Tortorici said comedy development will be aimed at getting a younger audience profile for CBS, he will maintain the strategy of Sunday movies and Western miniseries that deliver large household ratings.

CBS has another project from Larry McMurtry in the works with "Streets of Laredo," which will star James Garner, Sissy Spacek and Sam Shepard.

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