Homicide producer's new show too grim for NBC

Veteran TV producer Tom Fontana has exited NBC's new drama series The Philanthropist because his vision was too dark for the network.

The Philanthropist centers on a renegade billionaire who uses his wealth, connections, and power to help people in need no matter what the risks or costs.

Fontana, who won several Emmys for his work on St. Elsewhere and Homicide: Life on the Street, wrote the pilot script, based on an idea by producer Charlie Corwin. NBC ordered the script straight to series in September.

Fontana assembled a writing staff for the show and began breaking stories for additional episodes until the 100-day Hollywood writers strike brought the process to a halt. The writers went back to work in February and handed a number of scripts to the network.

At that point, it became clear that Fontana and network brass had different visions for the series, sources said.

True to his gritty roots, Fontana focused on such social issues as immigration, drug addiction, and the use of children soldiers in parts of world, while the network was looking for more escapist and fantastical approach to fit the rest of its lineup.

Additionally, the project has had difficulty casting the lead for the past seven months.

Still, NBC said earlier this month that Philanthropist will be on its 2008-09 schedule, launching in midseason and airing Mondays at 10 p.m.

The search is under way for a new writer-showrunner. The fate of the show's current writing staff, mostly scribes who have worked with Fontana before, is unclear. Fontana, meanwhile, is developing a new project for AMC.

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