According to Variety, Russell Crowe and Ron Howard are circling The Power of Duff, a Stephen Belber-scripted drama that Universal purchased in a spec sale this month. DreamWorks will be a co-production partner.

Imagine chairman Brian Grazer will produce with Marc Platt, who originally brought in the project.

Negotiations are just getting under way for Crowe to play a TV news anchor whose grief over his father's death prompts him to pray aloud during newscasts. When his prayers begin getting answered, the newsman becomes a most controversial TV figure.

Universal paid $900,000 against $1.25 million for the script by Belber, who penned the Broadway play "Match" and co-wrote HBO miniseries "The Laramie Project." Platt, whose recent productions include Legally Blonde and the Broadway hit musical "Wicked," had been planning to produce with his company prexy, Abby Wolf-Weiss.

Project would be the third teaming for Crowe, Howard and Grazer. They made the Oscar winner A Beautiful Mind and have a June 3 opening date for Cinderella Man, the drama about Depression-era folk hero boxer Jim Braddock.

Timing for The Power of Duff isn't clear. While Crowe is available because his film Eucalyptus was shelved, Howard and Grazer are booked through the rest of the year with The Da Vinci Code, which will be released May 19, 2006, by Sony.

Howard won't be available for his next film until 2006. He and Grazer are also developing historical drama The Serpent and the Eagle, which Paramount just picked up in turnaround from Universal. Howard also hopes to direct for Universal a Paul Attanasio-scripted adaptation of the John Steinbeck novel East of Eden.

The Da Vinci Code