ABC to look at 'Star Wars' live-action TV series

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ABC entertainment president Paul Lee says he’s going to take a look at the long-gestating Star Wars live-action TV series now that the Disney deal to acquire Lucasfilm is complete.

“We’d love to do something with Lucasfilm, we’re not sure what yet,” Lee exclusively told EW. “We haven’t even sat down with them. We’re going to look at [the live-action series], we’re going to look at all of them, and see what’s right. We weren’t able to discuss this with them until [the acquisition] closed and it just closed. It’s definitely going to be part of the conversation.”

Even many working in Hollywood don’t realize a live-action Star Wars TV series has been sitting on the shelf the past few years. The project was commissioned by longtime Lucasfilm producer Rick McCallum, who enlisted writers such as Battlestar Galactica‘s Ron Moore and swore them to NDA secrecy on the plot details (more on the show’s storyline below). Fifty scripts were written. McCallum once called the scripts the most “provocative, bold and daring material that we’ve ever done.”

And then … nothing.

The scripts gathered dust, the scope of the production and the extent of the show’s necessary visual effects deemed too expensive for a broadcast or cable network. The president of one premium cable outlet told me last summer the project just didn’t make any financial sense. The closest comparison was HBO’s lavish Game of Thrones. But that deal gave HBO control of a major chunk of the Thrones empire, including DVD and international distribution which significantly offset the show’s high production cost. The Star Wars show was budgeted at more than $5 million per episode and Lucasfilm wanted to retain ownership.

But now Disney has purchased Lucasfilm for $4 billion and Disney owns more than a couple TV networks. The financials for a big-budget TV show are more compelling if the license fee and other income sources stay in the family. Already one Star Wars-related project is in the works for kids network Disney XD. Cartoon Network’s popular and innovative animated title The Clone Wars will likely shift to XD after its current deal expires. Could the live-action show finally see the light of day too? It’s a tricky question because a new Star Wars film is planned for 2015. Cautious brand managers are sometimes reluctant to have a live-action TV show on the air when producing live-action films — such as Warner Bros. putting the kibosh on any Batman TV projects while making Christopher Nolan’s trilogy.

Lee said he wasn’t sure if the project was still viable. “It’s going to be very much up to the Lucasfilm brands how they want to play it,” he said. “We got to a point here with Marvel, a very special point, where we’re in the Marvel universe, and very relevantly so, but we’re not doing The Avengers. But S.H.I.E.L.D. is part of The Avengers. So maybe something oblique is the way to [approach the Star Wars universe] rather than going straight head-on at it.”

Sources say the live-action series centers on the story of rival families struggling over the control of the seedy underside of the Star Wars universe and the people who live within the subterranean level and air shafts of the metropolis planet Coruscant (the Empire’s urban-sprawl-covered home planet). A bounty hunter may be the main character. Set between the original Star Wars film trilogy and the prequels, the time period allows for all sorts of potential appearances from classic figures from the Star Wars universe.

Extensive art work including character designs, costume designs, and set designs were all developed by a top team of concept artists and designers who worked for more than a year on the third floor design studio at George Lucas’s Skywalker Ranch’s main house on the project. The team was closely supervised by McCallum and Lucas.

If all this sounds vaguely familiar, it might be because this roughly matches the description of the upcoming Star Wars videogame 1313. In fact, sources say story materials and the designs for the TV project were used to help make the game. So if you want to see what the TV show was supposed to look like, check out art from 1313 (one example above). This creative strip-mining could arguably help the TV show’s chances — it’s not like Hollywood has been shy about doing crossovers between videogames and films before.

Can you imagine that ultra-hypothetical ABC Sunday-night lineup? Once Upon a Time, Star Wars: 1313 and S.H.I.E.L.D?

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