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Richard Pryor Nears Showtime Sitcom Pilot Deal

Thu Feb 27, 2:39 AM ET
By Michael Schneider
Hollywood (Variety)

The Showtime cable channel is close to partnering with ailing veteran comedian Richard Pryor and "Mad About You" writer Bill Grundfest to create a sitcom based on the legendary performer's standup routines.

"Pryor Offenses," a pilot script set up at the network, will revolve around a character based on Pryor in his 30s. The project, set in present day, follows a comedian on the verge of a career breakthrough and forever close to a personal breakdown.

Grundfest said he took material from Pryor's 1970s-era comedy albums and standup gigs and deconstructed it into a story of a conflicted man who's engaged to a smart, sophisticated African-American lawyer and carrying on an affair with a down-to-earth white comedy club owner.

"I haven't had to do anything to update his material," Grundfest said. "His problems, his pain, the center of his standup is just as cutting edge today as it was back then. He was able to make us laugh about stuff that was really painful."

Grundfest will executive produce the project, along with Jennifer Lee Pryor, the comedian's wife and business manager. Grundfest said he first approached the Pryors with the concept.

"I was watching yet another sitcom with yet another alleged standup with an alleged point of view, and started yelling at the TV," he said. "I then went back to my garage and pulled out Richard's albums and started listening to them on vinyl. I then thought, 'Oh my God, this could be a series."'

Grundfest said he then set up a meeting with Jennifer Lee Pryor and laid out his ideas for the first 13 episodes.

Pryor said she had always passed on TV pitches in the past but was impressed with how Grundfest conveyed the comedian's humor and point of view.

"Bill has created a brilliant way of turning Richard's material and characters into a ... comedy of pain," she said. "It's a show designed to make you laugh till you cry and cry till you laugh."

The comedian frequently turned to his failed relationships and drug use for creative fodder. Pryor, 62, who announced in 1986 that he suffered from multiple sclerosis, has stayed out of the public spotlight in recent years. Rhino Records recently rereleased some of his controversial Grammy-winning records.

Separately, Showtime has picked up an animated version of the comic strip "Free for All," which was created by Brett Merhar. Merriwether Williams ("SpongeBob SquarePants") will co-write and exec produce the project for Film Roman. Voices attached to the show include Jonathan Silverman ("The Single Guy"), Jeremy Piven ("Serendipity") and Juliette Lewis ("Natural Born Killers").

Copyright © 2003 Reuters Limited