CHICAGO (thefutoncritic.com) -- The latest development news, culled from recent wire reports:
ARRESTED DEVELOPMENT (FOX) - Writer-director Greg Mottola ("Undeclared") has inked a one-year deal with the network to develop and direct pilots targeted for fall 2004. As part of the pact he's also expected to direct episodes of the network's existing series. Currently he's set to helm several episodes of the fall comedy "Arrested Development." Mottola spent the past development season shooting the failed single-camera comedy pilot "The Big Wide World of Carl Laemke," created by and starring Bob Odenkirk.
THE BERNIE MAC SHOW (FOX) - Various sources are reporting that showrunner Michael Borkow is close to stepping down from his post later this month due to managerial differences with Regency Television and 20th Century Fox Television. Interestingly enough it seems Borkow's boss at Regency, president Peter Aronson, is the one who's in line to replace him as showrunner. Aronson would then exit his duties at Regency and assume a non-writing executive producer position on the show. Borkow was brought in several months ago as a replacement for the then-exiting showrunner Larry Wilmore. It's not clear if Borkow will exit the series completely or stay on the show in a lesser role. The writer/producer signed a rich development deal back in May with both Regency and 20th to come aboard "Bernie."
THE RESTAURANT (NBC) - Producers Mark Burnett and Ben Silverman are eyeing a spin-off of the successful summer series, this time focusing on the inner workings of a casino. The pair have reportedly been spotted scouting possible locations and meeting with casino owners in Las Vegas, though the sources stressed that the project is still in early stages of development. Mark Burnett Prods., Reveille and Magna Global Entertainment would all be behind the series should it go forward. It's not clear however if it would land at the Peacock.
THE CIRCUIT (FOX) - The network is once again set to go foward with production on a pilot for the legal drama, which comes from producers Barry Levinson, Tom Fontana and James Yoshimura and distributor HBO Independent Productions. FOX had originally greenlighted a pilot back in late March but ABC, which has a deal with HBO Independent Productions, stepped in and said it wanted to develop the project. After several rewrites and much posturing, ABC finally let "The Circuit" go this summer, clearing the way for FOX to go forwad with the series. The drama explores the legal system through the eyes of a New York jury, although other points of view will be incorporated into scripts. According to the producers, the series will feature a core cast of five or six regular characters (a bailiff, a prosecutor, etc.) but will largely have a new ensemble of 12 characters each week. Fontana and Yoshimura are writing the pilot and will executive produce the project, while Levinson will also executive produce and is considering directing it. Production is set to begin shortly for midseason or summer 2004 consideration.
THE ELLEN DEGENERES SHOW (Syndication) - Monday's opening installment scored a solid 2.1 rating in 53 metered markets, 5% above the rating of its average lead-in and 17% ahead of its time period a year ago. Overall, the Warner Bros. Domestic Television-produced series performed best in such key markets as Chicago, Washington, Seattle, Minneapolis, Phoenix, Miami, Sacramento and Pittsburgh.
S.W.A.T. (NBC) - A revival of the series-turned-feature is officially a go at the Peacock as the network has made a premium script commitment with Sony Pictures Television and the feature's producers Neal Moritz and Marty Adelstein to return "S.W.A.T." to its small screen roots. Writers Mike Werb and Michael Colleary ("Face/Off") are on board to pen the script. which will use the film as a jumping-off point, using many of the same characters (but with different actors obviously). Clark Johnson, who directed the feature version, has been approached about helming the pilot, though no deal has been set. Moritz and Adelstein will executive produce the project under their Original Television banner.
STARGATE: ATLANTIS (Sci Fi) - Former MGM executive Tony Optican has been tapped as VP of development and current programming for the Sci Fi Channel. Optican's chief duty will be getting the long-in-the-works "Stargate" spin-off off the ground. Optican previously worked on the parent series at MGM and most recently was the VP of current programming for FOX. Optican is also targeting several other projects, including "Dead Lawyers" and "Anonymous Rex." "Lawyers" comes from DreamWorks Television and the Zanuck Company, and deals with (you guessed it) dead attorneys who cheated clients and are forced to help innocent people under indictment as punishment. The other, "Rex," is an in-house series based on the novels by Eric Garcia, about modern-day dinosaurs who disguise themselves as people.
STARTING OVER (Syndication) - Monday's premiere averaged a disappointing 1.1 rating in 48 metered markets. That's 26% off from the show's average lead-in rating, and 15% below that of a year ago in its time slot. NBC Enterprises and Bunim-Murray Productions nevertheless remain optimistic about the series, citing its strong performance in New York and Chicago where it averaged a 1.4 rating.
TARZAN (WB) - "Xena" herself, Lucy Lawless, has joined the cast of the fall drama. She's set to play Kathleen Clayton, Tarzan's aunt and a publishing magnate who clashes with her brother (Mitch Pileggi) over how to rehabilitate their jungle-bred nephew (Travis Fimmel). As part of her deal for "Tarzan," Lawless has also signed a talent holding deal with the Frog to develop a series around her for fall 2004.
UNTITLED KURTZMAN-COUNTER/ORCI PROJECT (ABC, New!) - "Alias" executive producers Roberto Orci and Alex Kurtzman-Counter have landed a put pilot commitment for a new drama series revolving around a young woman who must balance her new marriage with her duties as a member of the elite Secret Service. Touchstone Television is on board the project, which has a hefty penalty if it doesn't go forward to pilot. Orci and Kurtzman-Counter liken the series to "The French Connection" meets "thirtysomething." The project will track the lead character's day job, as she navigates the high-stakes world of global politics which includes looking after foreign dignitaries and presidential candidates. Fellow "Alias" executive producer Ken Olin is on board to direct the pilot, while Orci, Kurtzman-Counter and Francie Calfo will executive produce. The project is the result of Orci and Kurtzman-Counter's one-year overall deal at Touchstone, which has an option for a second year.
UNTITLED RON NYSWANER PROJECT (CBS, New!) - The Eye has given a premium script commitment to a new medical drama from feature writer Ron Nyswaner ("Philadelphia"), producer Tony Krantz ("24") and director Rodrigo Garcia ("Carnivale"). Nyswaner will write and executive produce the Warner Bros. Television-produced pilot with Garcia and Krantz via the latter's Flame Television. Garcia is set to direct the project should it get ordered to pilot, which is targeted for fall 2004. The pact includes a penalty attached should it not go forward. Details about the drama are vague as the producers and network wish to keep it under wraps saying only that it's "an adventurous medical drama" to Daily Variety.
WHY BLITT (FOX) - FOX has greenlighted a pilot for the half-hour comedy pilot, which comes from writers Ricky Blitt, Bobby and Peter Farrelly and distributor 20th Century Fox Television. The network has also committed to several additional scripts of the project, which stars Blitt as himself, a la HBO's "Curb Your Enthusiasm." The series is based on Blitt's life story which saw him rise from a thirtysomething Hollywood telemarketer to a showbiz success when a script he writes is picked up and turned into a hit TV show. FOX is targeting the project for midseason or summer 2004.
Sources: Variety, The Hollywood Reporter, Reuters