NEW YORK – Here comes Terror TV.
Cable channel Showtime (search) is quietly at work on a new series about the personal lives of an Islamic terrorist cell in the United States, The Post has learned.
The series — to be called "The Cell" (search) — will be told from the view points of a group of Euro pean and American con verts to Islam who are plotting terror attacks here.
Showtime says it realizes it is walking into a potential minefield by portraying terrorists sympathetically without pulling punches about their violent aims.
HBO's "The Sopranos" (search) and "The Wire" have found success doing that with mobsters and drug dealers.
"We're trying to look into the minds of these [terrorists] and the issues driving them, beyond a black-and-white portrayal," says Showtime entertainment president Robert Greenblatt, who will decide next month whether to commit to a series.
"The leaders of the cell look like nice, normal people you would encounter in everyday life and never know were quietly putting together a power base," he says. "Our only hesitation was sensitivity to the subject matter, which was very scary. Several plot points have already come to pass."
In fact, one scene was so prophetic and volatile it had to be cut from the original script. It depicted a captured serviceman being beheaded on videotape, months before it happened in real life.
"The Cell" stars an Israeli — Oded Fehr from the movie "The Mummy" — as the group's charismatic leader and Michael Ealy from the comedy "Barbershop" as a conflicted Islamic convert.
The pilot is the brainchild of Cyrus Voris and Ethan Reiff, who met as New York University film students and went on to create the 1998 Fox drama "Brimstone" and write the screenplay for last year's "Bulletproof Monk."
"Popular culture was trivializing the terrorism issue in an escapist, comic-book way and it really pissed us off," says Reiff, who grew up in Brooklyn. "You'd either see a generic Eurotrash terrorist or rogue CIA agent or an oil company conspiracy."
"You can't deal with such a complex issue like a James Bond film," adds Voris. "There was a huge disconnect with what was being shown and what we wanted to deal with."
The pair harnessed the politics, religions and backgrounds of its cast, crew and director Clark Johnson ("Homicide"), who insisted on meetings with Islamic groups.
They also engaged in copious research and tapped anti-terrorism experts.
"People like that are always approaching us, wanting to sell their stories," says Voris. "Most of the information we used was available long before 9/11. Those guys never made it much of a secret."