BC Beat

With Marisa Guthrie

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Fontana, Silverman Differ on 'Philanthropist'

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-winning producer of St. Elsewhere, Homicide 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 tells B&C, it became "some kind of A-Team, Fantasy Island thing."

"This is not to be critical of [Silverman]," says Fontana, "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, though NBC would not confirm.)

"We assume every Brit can do a good American accent," says Fontana 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's 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 says. "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 adds. "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 says. "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."

Spoils of War

On the door to Lara Logan's office at 60 Minutes hangs a sign with words of welcome in Arabic and English: "Caution. Stay back 100 meters or you will be shot."

Well, you know what they say: You can take the correspondent out of the war zone, but you can't take the war zone out of the correspondent.

Since she was named CBS News' chief foreign affairs correspondent in June, Logan, 37, has been spending more time Stateside than in Baghdad, Kabul or the other hot spots she has reported from in recent years.

But her office at the seminal newsmagazine, which began its historic 40th season on Sept. 21 (see B&C's special report, page 14), is filled with mementos and souvenirs from over there.

There's the wall clock set to Baghdad time and the framed drawing of an infantryman. But the prize pieces are the adulatory pre-Iraq invasion portraits of Saddam Hussein.

In one, the smiling former Iraqi leader is shown in military fatigues. "It was in pieces in the ruins of the Olympic Committee building after it was bombed," Logan wrote in an e-mail.

A second portrait, recovered from the ruins of a shelled palace in Baghdad, shows a paternal Saddam surrounded by a group of adoring children. Hovering above the scene is the disembodied head of a stern-looking elderly woman in a black hijab, which Logan says is Saddam's mother.

Well, what did you expect? Motivational posters?