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Hollywood scrambles to cash in on Petraeus scandal

By Sue Zeidler

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - Writers with a script about former four-star general David Petraeus' sex scandal can do lunch with anyone in Hollywood.

Studio executives have been huddled in meetings since Monday, sifting through potential scripts that can be tweaked. Agents have been called. Authors are getting e-mails.

"This will create great film and book interest," said literary agent Judi Farkas who represented author Antonio Mendez on the film rights sale of his book "Argo," the Ben Affleck movie based on a CIA mission. "There will be a scramble to corner the various rights," she said.

It's unclear if any of the major players -Petraeus or his lover, biographer Paula Broadwell - will sell the rights to their affair and give moviemakers the inside story that would have the best chance of becoming a hit movie or HBO docudrama, say agents.

"You can do a story ripped from headlines, but that might make studios nervous, particularly if they want to dramatize and portray peoples' personal lives," said entertainment lawyer Jay Cooper, quipping a film should be dubbed "General Strangelove."

A made-for-TV movie would be the fastest route to the consumer and could hit the small screen in as quickly as a year, experts say. A movie would hit theaters after the sex scandal has faded into memory.

"This scandal is shaping up to have a lot of elements that Hollywood and the public look for. Cover ups, conspiracies, the CIA, high-level political officials, affairs," said Hollywood producer Chris Armstrong.

Jay Roach, director of the Sarah Palin-based HBO movie "Game Change," has said he talked with film studios but wound up at the cable network. The movie drew a record 3.6 million viewers over its opening weekend, said HBO.

The Time-Warner owned cable channel optioned the book "Game Change" by John Heilemann and Mark Halperin while those close to the vice-presidential candidate refused to cooperate.

The sexual escapades of politicians has lured big crowds before. The 1998 "Primary Colors" based its lead character on Bill Clinton, using Joel Klein's book about the president's 1992 presidential campaign.

GROWING SCANDAL

The good news for potential script writers is the Petraeus story keeps growing, adding new salacious details, intrigue and maybe the whiff of national security issues.

One new player is General John Allen, the commander of U.S. and NATO forces, and his emails to Tampa Bay socialite Jill Kelley, who is at the center of the Petraeus case.

Kelley is the kind of character Hollywood craves, good looking, connected and with an unusual past. As "honorary consul," she joined the inner circle by throwing parties for military officers from nearby MacDill Air Force base.

In another strange twist, the investigation also includes a FBI agent who allegedly sent shirtless photos of himself to Kelley.

"It's got everything it takes," said Los Angeles entertainment lawyer Jon Pfeiffer. "It's like the 'Housewives of Tampa' meets 'The Bourne Affair.'"

Writers and agents with tidbits not already rehashed in the news media will become the most popular people at the Polo Lounge in Beverly Hills.

"I'm sure people are trying to get cellphone numbers and trying to reach to these people," said producer Jonathan Dana. "That's the way this business works."

(Reporting By Susan Zeidler; editing by Ronald Grover and Cynthia Osterman)

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