Can the tale of Jayson Blair be as compellingly told as the stories Blair himself spun (out of whole cloth, as it turned out) for readers of the New York Times? Showtime thinks so. The cable channel has commissioned ''The Jayson Blair Project,'' a biopic about the disgraced reporter, whose admitted plagiarism and fabrications in numerous stories rocked the venerable newspaper this spring and led to the resignation of two of its top editors. The movie, which should air late next year or early in 2005, will turn Blair's story into a ''dark comedy,'' screenwriter Jon Maas tells the Associated Press, along the lines of ''Confessions of a Dangerous Mind,'' last year's biopic of Chuck Barris, the ''Gong Show'' host who claimed to have a secret life as a CIA assassin.
''Although [Blair] is a real person and there's a tragic aspect to this, there's something snarky and odd that is quite comic about the way he operated,'' says Maas. He's basing the movie on articles about the scandal that Seth Mnookin wrote for Newsweek. (Mnookin has since left the magazine to write a book about the Times.) In other words, Maas says, Blair himself is not contributing to or profiting from the movie. ''I am not paying Jayson Blair one penny,'' Maas says. ''I'm not interested in buying the rights to his book. He will not profit financially from this film.''
Blair is writing his own book about his abortive journalism career, called ''Burning Down My Master's House: My Life at The New York Times.'' It'll join ''The Fabulist'' on bookshelves, the recent autobiographical novel by former New Republic magazine reporter Stephen Glass, who also left journalism after admitting that many of his fanciful articles were made up. His tale has already been made into a biopic, Lions Gate's ''Shattered Glass,'' which will be released Oct. 31 and features ''Star Wars'' bad seed Hayden Christensen as Glass. No word yet on casting for the ''Blair Project,'' but we bet Gary Coleman, the actor who most resembles Blair, is available.