By NELLIE ANDREEVA
EXCLUSIVE: NBC is looking to revive one of the most successful series in TV history – “Murder, She Wrote” — with a brand new take from writer Alexandra Cunningham and producer David Janollari that has Oscar-winner Octavia Spencer succeeding Angela Lansbury in the lead role of an astute amateur detective. The new hourlong project, which has received a put pilot commitment, is a re-imaging of the long-running CBS series. Described as a light, contemporary procedural in the vein of Bones or Fargo, it follows a hospital administrator and amateur sleuth (Spencer) who self-publishes her first mystery novel.
Set in a day where sensational headlines inundate the news, this woman’s avid fascination with true crime leads her to become an active participant in the investigations. Former Housewives executive producer Cunningham is writing and will executive produce with Janollari. I hear Lansbury has been approached to be a part of the reboot. Universal TV, whose namesake predecessor produced the original series, is producing with studio-based David Janollari Entertainment.
This would mark the first series regular role for Spencer, who won an Oscar for “The Help.” She previously worked with NBC chairman Bob Greenblatt and Janollari on the 2001 Sci Fi Channel series The Chronicle, which the two exec produced and she recurred on. Spencer’s involvement in Murder, She Wrote stems from an exploratory meeting she took with Greenblatt. “I’ve always considered myself an armchair detective and in a recent meeting with Bob Greenblatt, he asked me what type of character would be able to lure me to TV. Naturally, I said ” J.B. Fletcher” meets “Colombo”… And here we are,” she said. “I’m ecstatic to have the opportunity to work with Dave Janollari again, and Alex Cunningham a brilliant writer who shares my love for all things mysterious and Angela Lansbury.” Cunningham also spoke of her and Spencer’s shared passions. “Octavia and I are both huge true crime buffs, amateur criminologists, and fans of Angela Lansbury,” she said. “To get the chance to reimagine Murder, She Wrote for a dynamic and multi-faceted actress like Octavia is a thrill and a pleasure.”
Created by Richard Levinson, William Link and Peter S. Fischer, the original “Murder, She Wrote” starred Lansbury in her record 12-time-Emmy-nominated role as Jessica (J.B.) Fletcher, a middle-aged, widowed successful murder-mystery writer who solves real murders in her spare time. The series premiered in 1984, ran for 12 seasons and spawned four follow-up TV movies as well as a spinoff series, The Law & Harry McGraw. Like other reboots, including CBS’ Hawaii Five-0 and TNT’s Dallas, the new Murder, She Wrote will likely keep the popular theme music of the original series, which won an Emmy for composer John Addison, giving it a 21st century makeover. (You can refresh your memory below.)
Spencer, repped by WME and attorney Karl Austen, recently wrapped production on Black And White opposite Kevin Costner and is about to begin filming the James Brown biopic Get on Up while also promoting her debut novel, Randi Rhodes, Ninja Detective: The Case of the Time-Capsule Bandit. WME-repped Cunningham, who is under an overall deal at Universal TV, previously wrote and executive produced NBC’s well received adaptation of the British series Prime Suspect. Before that, she was a key member of the Desperate Housewives team for the first six seasons, rising to executive producer. Lansbury is with Mavrick Artists. This marks the latest high-profile project for Janollari, who has made a slew of sales in his first season as a Uni TV-based producer, landing two put pilot commitments.