CHICAGO (thefutoncritic.com) -- The latest development news, culled from recent wire reports:
AMERICAN MELTDOWN (FX) - The cable channel has greenlit production on the telefilm, which chronicles the events of a contemporary nuclear plant disaster and its aftermath. Jeremiah S. Chechik ("Benny & Joon," "Diabolique") has signed on to direct the project, production of which is set to begin in March for a June air date. "Meltdown" tracks an F.B.I. profiler who is brought in to take down a terrorist who is threatening to blow up a nuclear reactor. Paul and Larry Barber ("The Director") wrote the script to the telefilm while Craig Anderson and Beth Grossbard will executive produce for the former's self-named production company.
ARRESTED DEVELOPMENT (FOX) - Heather Graham ("Austin Powers: The Spy Who Shagged Me") is the latest actress to sign on to guest on the critically acclaimed series. She'll play "Beth Baerly, George Michael's (Michael Cera) ethics teacher, on whom he has a major crush. But when Michael (Jason Bateman) attends Parent-Teacher Night at his son's school, he ends up falling for her himself. As their relationship progresses and George Michael reveals his crush, Michael is forced to make an ethical decision: Should he stay with the hot teacher or break it off for his son?" according to a network press release. The episode, entitled "Shock & Aww," is set to air later this season.
DESPERATE HOUSEWIVES (ABC) - The Alphabet has given the producers the go ahead to produce a pilot for the drama, a darkly comic and offbeat soap that opens with the show's narrator, a female resident of a neighborhood cul-de-sac, committing suicide. She then tells the story of the amoral, insidious and incredibly secretive lives of the inhabitants (as well as her own dark secret) from beyond the grave. Touchstone Television and writers Chuck Pratt ("Melrose Place") and Marc Cherry ("Some of My Best Friends") are behind the project.
ELLIE PARKER (Showtime, New!) - Showtime is developing a new one-hour dramedy based on Scott Coffey's short film of the same name. The actor/writer has teamed with Jill Franklyn ("Seinfeld") on the project, which revolves around the life of a female actress struggling to make it in Los Angeles. The pay channel initially bought the short after it was screened at Sundance and has since put it under consideration for a production pickup. Jean Doumajian is attached to produce in addition to Franklyn.
THE JANE PAULEY SHOW (Syndication) - Emmy-winning producer Michael Weisman has been named executive producer of the upcoming syndicated talk show, NBC Enterprises announced via press release this week. Weisman has won over 20 Emmys for his work in sports, where he produced 13 World Series, five Super Bowls, was executive producer of the Seoul Summer Olympics and an executive consultant on the Salt Lake City Winter Olympics. The release also revealed the show will originate from NBC's famed studio 8G at Rockefeller Center in New York City.
LILAC LANE (Showtime, New!) - The pay channel has committed to six half-hour episodes of a new drama series from famed playwright/director Neil LaBute ("In the Company of Men," "Possession"). LaBute is expected to write, produce and direct each installment of the series, which tracks a young male college professor who finds himself disgraced and unemployed after having an affair with a co-ed with things getting even darker when the woman he slept with turns up missing. LaBute will executive produce through his Pretty Pictures banner along with Gail Mutrux.
MY NEW BEST FRIEND (MTV, New!) - Ashton Kutcher and his production partner Jason Goldberg ("Punk'd") are back at the MTV as the duo is developing a new hidden camera project based on the British series of the same name. "Friend" features contestants who must convince their friends and/or family that a person they have never met before is actually their new best friend. The trouble is said "new best friend" is actually an improv actor designed to make the task as difficult as possible by behaving inappropriately. It's not clear how one actually "wins" but a cash prize is involved. Kutcher and Goldberg will executive produce through their production company, Katalyst Films.
ONCE A DOG (ABC, New!) - Writer Jill Franklyn ("Seinfeld") and producer/director Gil Junger ("Hope & Faith") are set to team for a new comedy about a 40-ish bachelor who ends up having a baby with a woman he hardly knows thanks to a one-night stand. The duo say the project is loosely based on Junger's own experiences. Junger will executive produce, and likely direct, the project along with Franklyn. No studio was announced as being attached.
PLAYMAKERS (ESPN) - At its session at the TCA winter press tour ESPN executives remained mum about the future of its original drama series "Playmakers." They also confirmed the network has another two months or so before its option for a second season of the series expires.
QUEER AS FOLK (Showtime) - Showtime executives confirmed the show's upcoming fourth season, which premieres in April, will be 14 episodes.
RUSSELL SIMMONS PRESENTS DEF POETRY (HBO) - The pay channel confirmed at at its TCA winter press tour session it was renewed the series for a fourth season. 10 new epsiodes are set to debut later this year.
THE SOPRANOS (HBO) - Series creator David Chase once again made it clear at the show's panel at the TCA winter press tour he plans to close the drama after its 10-episode sixth season some time in 2005.
SURVIVOR (CBS) - The 18 castaways of the show's upcoming "all star" edition will be revealed on Monday during CBS' "The Early Show" (7:00-9:00 AM, ET/PT). In addition, during the week leading up to show's post-Super Bowl premiere on Feburary 1, "The Early Show" will air a five-part series in which correspondent Tracy Smith "will report on each contestant's approach to the game, the plans of the producers and the secrets that have kept 'Survivor' atop the ratings for seven seasons," according to a network press release.
THE TEENAGE INVESTOR (FOX, New!) - Actor Kevin Spacey is jumping into the TV producing game, pacting with writer J.J. Wall ("Less Than Perfect," "Married to the Kellys") and producer Ross Martin to develop a half-hour comedy based on the book "The Teenage Investor: How to Start Early, Invest Often & Build Wealth," by teen money whiz Timothy Olsen. Olsen began investing at age 8 by turning $150 in Pepsico shares into a $70,000 portfolio. FOX has given a script commitment to the project, a domestic comedy about an ordinary family coming to grips with the financial genius of their teenage son. Spacey's Trigger Street Productions and Martin's Plant Films will produce the project in association with 20th Century Fox Telvision with Spacey, his production partner Dana Brunetti, Martin and Wall executive producing.
TOUCHING EVIL (USA) - Actor Bruce Willis, one of the drama's executive producers, mentioned during the show's session at the TCA winter press tour he has expressed interest on making a guest appearance on the series, which is set to roll out later this year.
TRAFFIC (USA) - The cable channel's marketing strategy for the mini-series, which airs January 26-28, includes 50,000 one-dollar bills stickered with USA's logo and the mini-series' premiere date. The bills will begin circulating next week in Los Angeles and New York at various "hot spots" and bars that have agreed to integrate the money into its tills.
THE TWILIGHT ZONE (Syndication) - New Line Television has cleared the short-lived UPN series on local stations covering 75% of the country for a fall 2004 launch. Tribune stations WPIX New York, KCAL/KCBS Los Angeles and WGN Chicago have signed on, as have several in the Belo, Hearst Argyle, Scripps Howard and Meredith station groups. Participating stations have the option to air the series as 44 half-hour or 22 one-hour episodes.
UNTITLED EASY RAWLINS PROJECT (USA, New!) - Writer Walter Mosley is looking to turn Easy Rawlins, a character from several of his books (and played by Denzel Washington in the 1995 film "Devil in a Blue Dress"), into the focus of a one-hour drama series for the cable channel. USA has committed to a script for the project, which will be executive produced by Mosley and Anne-Marie Mackay ("Always Outnumbered, Always Outgunned"). ABC previously tried to develop a series about Rawlins, a black detective in 1948 Los Angeles, along with director Thomas Carter ("Miami Vice") and writer David Mills ("ER") back in 1999.
Sources: Variety, The Hollywood Reporter, Reuters