Dec. 30, 2013 at 9:24 AM ET
The real-life inspiration for the hard-partying financial swindler played by Leonardo DiCaprio could be TV’s next reality star.
From the first pages of Jordan Belfort’s outrageous 2007 memoir, "The Wolf of Wall Street" — in which he shares staggering tales of drug-taking excess as he scammed investors out of $110 million throughout the 1990s — Electus CEO Chris Grant was hopelessly smitten with its larger-than-life narrator.
“I knew without even seeing a picture of him that he could be a talent both behind and in front of the camera,” says Grant, an enthusiastic book collector who runs the Ben Silverman founded studio behind such series as "Fashion Star" and "Mob Wives."
Grant tracked down Belfort, who, after serving 28 months for his crimes, now works as a successful motivational speaker based out of Manhattan Beach, Calif. The pair then worked together to devise a pitch tailored to Belfort’s “unique set of business skills.”
The result is an uplifting show that sees Belfort, now 51, stepping in to help others who, like him, have hit rock bottom but still hold out some hope for redemption.
Interest has been high for the project among those networks that already have met the author, says Grant, who describes the reaction of several execs to Belfort’s magnetic, made-for-reality personality: “He was described to us after leaving the room as ‘TV gold.' "
Since its Christmas Day release, the Martin Scorsese-directed "Wolf of Wall Street" has grossed north of $30 million at the stateside box office. The R-rated film was widely praised by critics but has also seen some backlash over the portrayal of Belfort's crimes.
Christina McDowell, who stated that Belfort had once been chosen to testify against her father, wrote a critical open letter published in L.A. Weekly addressed to the filmmakers. "Your film is a reckless attempt at continuing to pretend that these sorts of schemes are entertaining, even as the country is reeling from yet another round of Wall Street scandals," she argued.