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Fontana, Silverman Differ on Philanthropist - Broadcasting & Cable

Fontana, Silverman Differ on Philanthropist

Creator of new NBC drama: Series not quite what he envisioned.
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Speaking at last week's New York Television Festival, NBC Entertainment co-chairman Ben Silverman boasted that The Philanthropist, a new NBC drama set for the spring, "will redefine the closed-ended procedural with a new kind of hero: a businessman who wants to save the world, a James Bond model."

That's not quite what the show's creator, Tom Fontana, had in mind when he pitched it to Silverman, however. The Emmy Award-winning producer of St. Elsewhere, Homicide: Life on the Streets and Oz, Fontana envisioned more of a morality play about a billionaire whose grief over his young son's death leads him to use his wealth to right wrongs, punish the guilty and restore justice to an unjust world.

Instead, he told B&C, it became "some kind of A-Team, Fantasy Island thing."

"This is not to be critical of [Silverman]," Fontana added, "but either he wasn't listening to what I was saying ... When he finally saw what I wanted to do, he just didn't want any part of it."

The two also disagreed on casting. Silverman wanted a British actor for the lead. (James Purefoy, who is indeed British, is likely to star, although NBC would not confirm.)

"We assume every Brit can do a good American accent," Fontana said with a laugh. "I mean, for every Hugh Laurie who does a brilliant one, there are 16 guys who sound like they were raised on some island between Briton and America."

Ultimately, NBC replaced Fontana with David Eick, a producer on Battlestar Galactica and the short-lived Bionic Woman remake.

Silverman could not be reached for comment.

But there were no hard feelings from Fontana, who joked about having seen a major reworking of his pilot script. "It's hard for me to make a judgment whether it's good or bad," he said. "It's like somebody coming in and sleeping with your wife. You go, 'How was he, honey? Anything I could learn from that?'"

"It's not like I'm sitting here cursing the darkness," he added. "Ben Silverman believes he knows what the American public wants to watch. Listen, I hope he's right."

After all, despite the show's title, this wasn't exactly an act of charity for Fontana.

"I had a pay-or-play contract, so they have to pay me," he said. "If it runs for 100 episodes, they have to pay me. I want this show to run for 100 years. I am, like, the biggest fan of this show ever. I could retire on a show that I have nothing to do with -- that would be perfect."

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