CHICAGO (thefutoncritic.com) -- The latest development news, culled from recent wire reports:
THE AMAZING RACE (CBS) - The Eye has given executive producers Bertram van Munster and Jerry Bruckheimer the thumbs up to begin casting a potential fifth season of the Emmy-nominated reality series. CBS will then decide whether or not to go forward with production on a new installment later this fall. This past summer the series' fourth season averaged just over 8 million viewers on Thursday nights.
AMERICAN DAD (FOX, New!) - "Family Guy" creator Seth MacFarlane and writers Mike Barker and Matt Weitzman have been given the go ahead to produce a pilot presentation for a new animated series for the network. The series, which will be produced by 20th Century Fox Television, focuses on a family consisting of Stan, a right-leaning C.I.A. agent; his wife; their two kids, including a liberal daughter; a housebound alien named Roger; and a French-speaking goldfish. Like "Family Guy," MacFarlane plans to provide several of the character voices. The creators liken the show to a 21st century version of "All in the Family" and will not shy away from political and social humor. The news marks FOX's second major animated push for fall 2004, the other being a small screen adaptation of the comic strip "The Boondocks."
THE APPRENTICE (NBC) - Production began this week on the new reality series from "Survivor" creator Mark Burnett. NBC plans to launch the project, which features 16 contestants competing for the chance to be mentored by real estate tycoon Donald Trump, during February sweeps.
BECKER (CBS) - "Becker's" off-network run barely made a dent in the Nielsens in 52 markets (not including New York City), averaging a 1.0 rating and 2 share. The Paramount-distributed series was off by 29% in the ratings from both its year-ago time period average and its lead-in.
BOOMTOWN (NBC) - Producers NBC Studios and DreamWorks Television have decided to halt production for two weeks on the series' sophomore season following the completion of the sixth episode. The break is a reaction by the producers to NBC's concerns about the seventh and eighth installments, an informal two-parter much like the show's closing two episodes last season in which a dirty cop caused the death of a fellow officer. The Peacock had requested that the show shift to more stand-alone episodes as part of its renewal for a second season. Executive producer Graham Yost told Daily Variety there was a "a bit of miscommunication about the level of stand-aloneness" on the series, which led to the formation of a "mini-arc" for November sweeps. Rather than compromise the story, the storylines for both episodes as originally envisioned will be scrapped or possibily moved to a later date. The writers will spend the two week break working on new scripts for the seventh and eighth episodes.
DEVIL'S KNOT (USA, New!) - The cable channel has fast-tracked a new telefilm based on author Mara Leveritt's book of the same name. The project concerns the "West Memphis Three" - Damien Echols, Jessie Miskelly and Jason Baldwin - three boys who were convicted in 1993 for the brutal murder of three young boys from Arkansas. Many activists however believe the trio was wrongly convicted based on little evidence and were painted as the culprits based on their fascination with heavy-metal music and Goth fashion. Several celebrities such as the Dead Kennedys' Jello Biafra, rock group Metallica, Pearl Jam frontman Eddie Vedder and Winona Ryder have all championed the boys' cause and the producers hope to rush the telefilm to air by next spring, when one of the boys (Echols) is scheduled to be executed. Elizabeth Fowler and Ilene Kahn Power will executive produce "Devil's Knot," while Joe Berlinger and Bruce Sinofsky (the pair behind the Emmy-winning HBO documentaries "Paradise Lost" and "Paradise Lost II," both of which dealt with the West Memphis Three) will co-executive produce. Leveritt will serve as a consultant on the project while a director and screenwriter are expected to be named shortly. Berlinger and Sinofsky are also behind a feature film version of the boys' story with Alex Steyermark attached to direct.
FIVE FINGER DISCOUNT (FOX, New!) - David E. Kelley is set to team with "Boston Public" writer Kerry Ehrin for a new half-hour comedy about a 10-year-old girl growing up in a family of petty crooks. The network has ordered a script for the project, which will come from Kelley's 20th Century Fox Television-based David E. Kelley Productions.
JACK & BOBBY (WB) - "Everwood" creator Greg Berlanti and writer Vanessa Taylor have come on board the drama project, which revolves around two teenage sons of a single mom, one of whom is destined to become the president of the United States. Berlanti will executive produce the series, which has a put pilot commitment, along with Thomas Schlamme ("The West Wing"). The news marks Berlanti and partner Mickey Liddell's first output from their new self-titled production company based at Warner Bros. Television. "Jack & Bobby" is based on an idea from novelist Brad Meltzer and D.C. insider Steve "Scoop" Cohen. The show will also include a documentary-style element, as it fast-forwards to the future, when Jack is president.
JOINT CUSTODY (WB, New!) - The Frog has given a rich half-hour put pilot commitment to a new comedy from Dottie Dartland-Zicklin, the co-creator of "Dharma & Greg" and "Caroline and the City." The autobiographical comedy revolves around two young teens with divorced parents who spend part of their week living with ultrapermissive mom and the rest of the week with disciplinarian dad. The pact includes a six-to-seven-figure penalty should the pilot not go to series. Dartland-Zicklin has already penned a pilot script, though the WB bought the project sight unseen based on the strength of the her pitch. Warner Bros. Television will produce the pilot.
KING OF QUEENS (CBS) - The syndicated run of the Sony Pictures Television-distributed series kicked off in 54 markets on Monday, finishing 20% in rating and down by a point in share from its year-ago time period averages. From its lead-in, "Queens" was flat in share but off by 13% in rating.
LIVING IT UP WITH ALI & JACK (Syndication) - King World's highly touted new syndicated talk show opened on Monday to troublesome results. The premiere was off 22% in the ratings from its year-ago time-period averages in 49 markets, and down 30% from its lead-in.
ON AIR WITH RYAN SEACREST (Syndication) - "American Idol" host Ryan Seacrest's upcoming syndicated talk show from 20th Century Fox Television has an official title. The series, which bows in January, will be taped at a new multi-story glass studio location (a la MTV's "Total Request Live") at the Hollywood & Highland entertainment complex adjacent to the Kodak Theater. The production space will allow audiences to view the program during taping with an outdoor courtyard to accommodate live performances. "On Air" has also been cleared recently on stations in Miami, Indianapolis, Pittsburgh, Portland, San Diego and Cincinnati. Most markets have the series airing in the 4:00-6:00 p.m. eastern range. Seacrest will serve as executive producer of the series with Adamo Freeman, previously of "TRL," co-executive producing. Bob McKinnon, formerly with "Good Morning America," will direct.
THE PARKERS (UPN) - Paramount's off-network run of "The Parkers," which launched on Monday in 45 markets, was flat compared with its year-ago time period share averages, but climbed by 15% in rating and grew by 6% from its lead-in.
PRACTICAL MAGIC (CBS, New!) - The Eye has pacted with Warner Bros. Television to develop a small screen version of the 1998 film which starred Nicole Kidman and Sandra Bullock as two sisters who struggle with the blessing and curse of magical abilities. Bullock herself is attached to produce the project, along with Denise Di Novi ("The District") and writer Becky Hartman-Edwards ("American Dreams"), through her Fortis Films banner. Hartman-Edwards will executive produce and write the pilot, which will be based on the Alice Hoffman novel that served as the inspiration for the film. Bullock and Di Novi, who produced the feature, will serve as executive producers of the CBS project, which has been given a premium script commitment with a penalty attached should it not go to pilot.
RIPLEY'S BELIEVE IT OR NOT (TBS) - Off-cable reruns of Sony Pictures Television's "Ripley's Believe It or Not" managed only a 0.9 rating and 2 share on opening day in 49 markets. That put the show 10% below its year-ago time period averages and 18% below its lead-in.
SEX AND THE CITY (HBO) - TBS and Oxygen have emerged as the frontrunners for the off-cable rights to the HBO comedy. Both networks are eager to snap up the rights as the cable window will start in September 2004, one year earlier than its planned syndicated run on local stations across the country. It's believed HBO moved up the cable window to make up for the fact whichever network lands the "Sex" repeats will have to compete with Tribune's WGN (which through cable and satellite reaches 50 million-plus subscribers outside the Chicago area) come September 2005, in effect negating any sort of cable-exclusivity. HBO sold the series to the Tribune station group last week for a four-year term, the first two years of which WGN will be allowed to broadcast "Sex" on its national signal. WE: Women's Entertainment reportedly dropped out of the bidding for this exact reason. Two years ago, Oxygen put in an offer of $750,000 an episode for the reruns of "Sex" but HBO rejected the bid, choosing at the time to keep it for exclusive use on its multiplex networks. The price would be lower now because of the syndication sharing.
THE SHARON OSBOURNE SHOW (Syndication) - The Warner Bros. Domestic Television-distributed series opened to a 1.8 rating and 5 share in 55 metered markets, up 29% from its the time period average from a year ago. Compared to its lead-in, however, "Osbourne" was flat in share and down marginally by 5% in rating. The studio however is upbeat as "Sharon's" performance comes a week after the equally encouraging debut of fellow Warner Bros.-syndicated talk show, "The Ellen DeGeneres Show." In 53 metered markets last week, "Ellen" averaged a 2.1 rating and 6 share, up 17% from year-ago average ratings in its time slot, and up 5% from its lead-in ratings. In share, however, the show was flat both in year-ago time period averages and in lead-in.
STARTING OVER (Syndication) - The NBC Enterprises-distributed series finished its first week off 21% from its year-ago time period average and down 27% from its lead-in.
STRONG MEDICINE (Lifetime) - Distributor Sony Pictures Television is looking to follow in the footsteps of "Sex and the City" and "South Park" and sell repeat runs of the successful drama series to cable and local stations across the country beginning in 2005. Lifetime had the right of first refusal for the five-night-a-week run but decided against it due to its previous commitments to "Any Day Now" and "The Division." This means that "Medicine" repeats could very well end up on one of Lifetime's cable competitors such as WE: Women's Entertainment and Oxygen. Nevertheless, Lifetime could still end up purchasing the rights at a later date.
TRANSYLVANIA (NBC, New!) - The Peacock has pacted with new corporate sibling Universal Studios to develop a series based on the upcoming summer 2004 feature "Van Helsing," which stars Hugh Jackman as Bram Stoker's legendary monster hunter. The pilot, while not a spin-off or sequel, will be set in the same universe as the film. NBC has made a firm put pilot commitment to the project, which includes a hefty penalty should it not go to series. "Van Helsing's" writer/director Stephen Sommers is attached to write and executive produce "Transylvania" with longtime collaborator Bob Ducsay. Though the series will be set in the same 19th century vein as the film, Van Helsing will not be a character in "Transylvania." Instead, the series will be a character-driven soap opera and the central figure will be a young cowboy from Texas who's pressed into duty and becomes the sheriff in a town where oddities abound. It is not, however, being conceived as a monster-of-the-week series like the last successful film-to-TV vampire transition, "Buffy the Vampire Slayer." Instead it will revolve around two warring families, both of whom have monstrous genes and the sheriff is trying maintain peace between them. In all likelihood, the pilot will be shot on the same 19th-century village set that Universal built in Prague and used for "Van Helsing." Sommers also says he has a plan in mind on how to continue both the film "Helsing" and TV "Transylvania" franchises should both go on to success. Interestingly enough, NBC will announce its fall 2004 schedule just a few days after "Van Helsing's" release in May.
24 (FOX) - Emmy-nominated director Stephen Hopkins, the man responsible for the show's unique split-screen look, has signed a development deal with 20th Century Fox Television. The six-figure, one-year pact calls for Hopkins to develop and direct projects for the studio on an exclusive basis. Currently Hopkins is helming the upcoming USA mini-series "Traffic" as well as HBO's telefilm "The Life and Death of Peter Sellers." On the feature side, Hopkins has directed such films as "Lost In Space," "The Ghost and the Darkness," "Blown Away" and "Under Suspicion."
UNTITLED ANDY RICHTER PROJECT (NBC, New!) - The "Andy Richter Controls the Universe" star has signed a talent holding deal with the Peacock to develop a half-hour comedy project for the actor or cast him in another of its fall 2004 pilots. Richter's pact is technically a second-position deal in respect to "The Lunchbox Chronicles," a comedy pilot that remains in midseason consideration at CBS.
UNTITLED JASON PRIESTLY PROJECT (FOX, New!) - The "Beverly Hills, 90210" star has signed a talent holding deal with the network he called home for nearly a decade. The pact calls for FOX to develop a project for Priestley or cast him in one of its development projects for fall 2004. The actor recently appeared last season on ABC's "Eight Simple Rules..." He's also directed several episodes of "90210" and the WB's "Grosse Pointe," as well as the feature concert documentary "Barenaked in America."
UNTITLED JENNIFER COOLIDGE PROJECT (NBC, New!) - The popular actress ("American Pie," "Legally Blonde" and "Best in Show") has signed a talent holding deal with Peacock. The deal calls for Coolidge to look at scripts and develop potential projects with writers, in the hopes of starring in an NBC sitcom for fall 2004.
UNTITLED MAGGIE FRIENDMAN PROJECT (ABC, New!) - The Alphabet network has given a script commitment to Maggie Friedman ("Dawson's Creek") for a new series about a 30-year-old publicist who must suddenly raise her sister's child. Greg Berlanti and Mickey Liddell, the project's executive producers, liken the series to "Party Girl" meets "Baby Boom."
UNTITLED MO ROCCA PROJECT (FOX, New!) - The network is developing a new reality series written by and starring the "The Daily Show With Jon Stewart" correspondent. The project, which comes from 20th Century Fox Television and Brad Gray Television, has Rocca interacting with criminals in a prison setting, most likely a minimum-security facility or halfway house. Potential formats could range from Rocca organizing a musical number for a select group of felons or making them employees at a diner.
UNTITLED ROB PEARLSTEIN PROJECT (FOX, New!) - The network is developing a new project from Rob Pearlstein about a young special forces unit at Bagram Air Base in Afghanistan. Executive producers Greg Berlanti and Mickey Liddell ("Everwood") describe the series as "Three Kings" meets "M*A*S*H." FOX has committed to a script for the project.
WHY BLITT? (FOX) - Feature film actresses Cameron Diaz and Shannon Elizabeth are set to guest in the pilot, a semi-autobiographical comedy written by and starring Ricky Blitt. The series, likened to HBO's "Curb Your Enthusiasm," chronicles Blitt's life as he adjusts from being a lowly telemarketer to a highly-paid screenwriter when his script for "The Cameron Diaz Show" is picked up. Jim Parsons, Bokeem Woodbine and David Koechner meanwhile have signed on to play Blitt's misfit friends. "Blitt" is executive produced by Bobby and Peter Farrelly of "There's Something About Mary" fame.
Sources: Variety, The Hollywood Reporter, Reuters