CHICAGO (thefutoncritic.com) -- The latest development news, culled from recent wire reports:
ALIAS (ABC) - Djimon Hounsou ("Lara Croft Tomb Raider: The Cradle of Life") has signed on to appear in at least two episodes of the drama's upcoming third season. He'll play the head of an evil new criminal organization that the C.I.A. will attempt to take down.
BAD APPLE (TNT) - Colm Meaney, Mercedes Ruehl, Robert Patrick, Elliott Gould and Dagmara Dominczyk have been cast in the Chris Noth-led telefilm, the first of a potential movie franchise for the network. The project, based on Anthony Bruno's series of novels, is set in the New York crime world and centers on F.B.I. agent Mike Tozzi (Noth) and his longtime partner Cuthbert Gibbons (Meaney). Ruehl will play Gibbons' outspoken wife, Gould will play a mob kingpin, Patrick will play a local wiseguy, while Dominczyk ("The Count of Monte Cristo") will play a well-connected woman romantically involved with Tozzi. Noth serves as the telefilm's executive producer along with Daniel Blatt. Production is scheduled to begin this month in Montreal and New York for a 2004 air date.
THE BLACKWATER LIGHTSHIP (CBS, New!) - Angela Lansbury, Dianne Wiest and Gina McKee are set to star in the Eye's latest "Hallmark Hall of Fame" presentation. The project, based on Colm Toibin's novel of the same name, stars the trio as three generations of women who move to Ireland to care for the McKee character's brother, who is dying of AIDS. Shane Connaughton ("My Left Foot") will adapt the book with John Erman ("An Early Frost") directing. The telefilm is being targeted for sometime next season, either in February (around Valentine's Day) or May (before Mother's Day).
C.S.I./C.S.I. MIAMI (CBS) - It's been a busy week for the popular crime franchise. First off, King World is set to rake in upwards of $75 million from its off-network sale of the parent series to local stations in 162 markets beginning in September 2004. The two-year deals are for weekend plays only as Spike TV owns the weekday run. Once completed, the sale would the largest to date for off-network weekend repeats. "C.S.I." has already set records from its weekday sale to the cable channel: $1.6 million per episode for five-a-week play starting next fall and $360,000 per episode for its current weekly repurposed airing. King World topper Roger King promised the stations he would funnel two different "C.S.I." episodes each week in the strict chronological order in which they appeared on CBS, starting with the series' pilot. Because of the high demand, King World was also able to snag an extra 30-second spot from that stations. Traditionally, the syndicated distributor of the off-network run and the local station split the 14-minutes of ad space evenly. King World's only income from the series will come from the ad sales as producers CBS Productions and Alliance Atlantis own the series. All CBS owned-and-operated stations have signed on for the weekend repeats with most of them running it Saturdays and Sundays at 11:30/10:30c.
Meanwhile, in other "C.S.I." executive producers/showrunners Ann Donahue and Carol Mendelsohn have signed long-term pacts with CBS Productions and Alliance Atlantis keeping the pair with the franchise through 2007. It's believed that each will earn around $12 million over four years, making them the highest-paid female drama showrunners in the medium's history. Donahue will remain with the spin-off with Mendelsohn on the parent series. Interestingly enough, the pacts include any work on a potential third "C.S.I." series during the period. Creator Anthony Zuiker is already locked in for three more years meaning the Eye has now locked up the primary creative force behind the franchise for years to come.
DARK NETWORK (FX, New!) - The cable channel is developing a new six-hour limited from writer Jim Manos ("The Sopranos," "The Shield"). Lions Gate Television and Hyde Park Entertainment are behind the project, details of which are still sketchy. Hyde Park's Ashok Amritraj however likens the series to the upcoming USA mini-series "Traffic." He'll executive produce the project with Manos and Neil Russell ("Crush").
EMPIRE FALLS (HBO) - Aidan Quinn is the latest to sign onto the star-studded telefilm. He joins such noteables as Ed Harris, Paul Newman, Helen Hunt, Joanne Woodward, Robin Wright Penn, Dennis Farina and newcomer Danielle Panabaker. The project, a comedic look at blue-collar life in the depressed Maine mill town of Empire Falls, centers on Miles Roby (Harris), a decent fortysomething guy stuck running Empire Grill, the town's most popular eatery, for 20 years. He has a pending divorce, a loose-cannon father (Newman), a troubled younger brother (Quinn) and a teenage daughter (Panabaker) on his hands.
HUFF (Showtime) - Oliver Platt ("Queens Supreme") has come aboard the pay channel's two-hour drama pilot. Platt will play lead Hank Azaria's attorney buddy. Paget Brewster and Blythe Danner also star in the pilot which is scheduled to begin production shortly in Vancouver.
RONIN (CBS, New!) - The Eye has made a premium script commitment to a series version of the 1998 John Frankenheimer thriller from producer Ashok Amritraj's Hyde Park Entertainment. The project, to be produced in partnership with MGM, will follow a C.I.A. agent who ends up left out in the cold by the agency. Rick Ramage ("Peacemakers") is attached to write and executive produce the pilot, with Amritraj and Jon Jashni also executive producing. Cable channel FX had previously been developing "Ronin" as a series with the film's screenwriter J.D. Zeik.
SCRUBS (NBC) - Tara Reid has signed on for a multi-episode arc on the comedy's upcoming third season. She'll play sister to Christa Miller's character, and be a potential new love interest for series star Zach Braff. Reid will appear in at least four with an option to appear in two more. It's not clear when her first episode will air.
SOUTH PARK (Comedy Central) - Debmar Studios is set to sell the network's long-running animated series to local stations for a fall 2004 or fall 2005 start date. While it's still too early to put an accurate dollar figure on the show's sale, it's expected to rake in close to $100 million for its first four years in off-network syndication. Debmar topper Mort Marcus says it's likely Comedy Central will have to trim or re-edit several episodes due to content issues. Regardless, he doesn't think local stations will air the series earlier than 11:00/10:00c. "South Park's" chief attractiveness is its strong performance in men 18-34 and men 18-49, two of the hardest demographics to reach. During the past November sweeps period, episodes of "South Park" finished consistently at number one in the top-20 markets in said demographics, beating even NBC's "Law & Order."
UNTITLED CRISTINA SARALEGUI PROJECT (New!) - Latina talk superstar Cristina Saralegui has inked a talent holding deal with Touchstone Television to star in a sitcom based on her life. She'll also co-executive produce any series that results from the deal, as will her husband/manager Marcos Avila. Touchstone-based Gene Stein and Nina Wass ("Less Than Perfect") have already signed on as executive producers for the potential series which is expected to land at ABC. The project will track Saralegui's rise from print journalist to her current status as host of Univision's top-rated "Cristina Show."
UNTITLED JOHN GRAY PROJECT (USA, New!) - John Gray ("Helter Skelter") has pacted with the cable channel to write and direct a new six-hour mini-series about organized crime's ties to the health-care industry. The project is based on an unpublished book by authors Ben Frosch and Brian Foster, who have investigated medical fraud and written about how crime organizations have scammed billions of dollars out of the medical field. The mini-series will use a fictional storyline based on Frosch and Foster's findings. Ken Aguado ("The Salton Sea") and D.J. Caruso ("Crazy as Hell") are the executive producers of the project. Gray will complete the script for the mini-series after completing his work on "Skelter" for CBS.
UNTITLED LENA HORNE PROJECT (ABC, New!) - Janet Jackson, Storyline Entertainment and Sony Pictures Television have pacted to create a two-hour biopic of the singer/actress with Jackson in the lead role. Storyline's Craig Zadan and Neil Meron will executive produce the project with Roy Campanella, Jr. directing. Rather than lip synch to Horne's songs, Jackson will record new takes on the singer's classic tunes such as "Stormy Weather" and "Just One of those Things." Jackson and Campanella will also serve as executive producers on the telefilm, which is being written by Shirley Pierce. Richard Schickel's recent biography "Lena" will be used as the basis for the script.
UNTITLED MARIO CANTONE PROJECT (New!) - "Sex and the City" co-star Mario Cantone has inked a deal with 20th Century Fox Television-based Imagine Television to star in and co-executive produce a sitcom for the studio. The project, targeted for fall 2004, centers on two characters, a gay man and a straight Italian guy. Still in the early stages of development, the series has yet to be pitched to the networks.
WILL & GRACE (NBC) - Oscar winner Mira Sorvino is slated to guest star on the series' second episode this season. She'll play a fast-talking fashion editor at Vogue magazine who coincidentally is a former flame of both Leo (Harry Connick, Jr.) and Will (Eric McCormack).
Sources: Variety, The Hollywood Reporter, Reuters