CHICAGO (thefutoncritic.com) -- The latest development news, culled from recent wire reports:
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A CHRISTMAS CAROL (NBC) - Jennifer Love Hewitt is in negotiations and Geraldine Chaplin is set to join the Peacock's upcoming musical based on the stage production of the Charles Dickens classic at New York's Madison Square Garden. The pair join the previously cast Kelsey Grammer (Ebenezer Scrooge), Jason Alexander (Marley), Jesse L. Martin (The Ghost of Christmas Present) and Jane Krakowski (The Ghost of Christmas Past). Hewitt is up for the role of Emily, Scrooge's lost love, while Chaplin will play the Ghost of Christmas Future. Production is set to begin in June in Budapest, Hungary on the telefilm for a November premiere.
THE DEAD WILL TELL (CBS, New!) - Anne Heche ("Gracie's Choice") is set to topline a new telefilm at the Eye based on one of psychic James Van Praagh's beyond-the-grave readings. The project, which comes from executive producer Barbara Lieberman, is seen as a follow-up to the 2002 mini-series "Living With the Dead," which was based on Van Praagh's book of the same name. Heche will play Emily Parker, a woman who, after getting an antique engagement ring from her fiance, begins to see images of a long-deceased soul named Marie and investigates her mysterious death. Mark Kruger ("Tru Calling") and Nancy Fichman & Jennifer Hoppe are on board to pen the script to the project, production of which is set to begin in New Orleans later this year for broadcast during the 2004-05 season. Lieberman and Van Praagh will executive produce through the former's Barbara Lieberman Productions in association with Robert Greenwald Productions.
FAMILY VALUES (VH1) - Flex Alexander ("One on One") has signed on to play embattled pop star Michael Jackson in the cable channel's upcoming telefilm that traces Jackson's troubled life from his Motown heyday to his current legal woes. Production is underway in Calgary, Alberta on the project with Allan Moyle ("Say Nothing") directing from a script by Claudia Salter ("Running Mates"). Also joining the cast is Eugene Clark ("Reversible Errors") as Jackson's bodyguard and confidant. In addition to VH1, the film also will air on Canadian channels the Movie Network and Movie Central. Blueprint Entertainment is behind the project, which is executive produced by Jon Katzman ("Redemption").
THE GOOD LIFE (NBC, New!) - The Peacock has reportedly given an eight-episode order to a new reality series featuring Kathy Hilton, the mother of "The Simple Life" star Paris Hilton. It's understood the series, which could be ready for a September launch, will feature 10 young women from around the country who have unrealized potential. Hilton will then guide them on how to succeed in various fields such as publishing, fashion, cosmetics, with each being tested "The Apprentice"-style in each. The winner, determined by a yet to be revealed elimination process, will get a job in the field in which she fared best, a car, jewelry and a one-year stay at the family's Waldorf-Astoria hotel in New York City, where the contestants will reside during the show's taping. Hilton, a former child actress, owned a boutique on Hollywood's Sunset Strip and has a line of home products that sell on QVC. Paul Buccieri ("Anything for Love") and Endemol USA are producing the project, which NBC has yet to formally announce.
THE MAGIC OF ORDINARY DAYS (CBS) - The Eye has released a detailed description of the upcoming telefilm, which stars Keri Russell ("Felicity"), Skeet Ulrich ("Miracles") and Mare Winningham ("The Brotherhood of Poland, N.H."): "The poignant love story, set during World War II, is about an unwed pregnant woman who is sent to a small Colorado town to marry a lonely farmer who agrees to raise her child as his own. Livy Dunne (Russell) dreamed of a career as an archeologist until she becomes pregnant by a dashing soldier who leaves her behind. Her father, a stern minister, banishes her from his family and sends her away to an arranged marriage with Ray Singleton (Ulrich), a hard-working man with whom she initially has little in common. Though far from happy, Livy accepts her fate and is graciously taken in by the town�s people and Ray�s family including his sister, Martha (Winningham), a warm, friendly woman who welcomes Livy with open arms. Still, she continues to send letters to the missing soldier and holds out a grain of hope for his return. Ray is patient and willing to do anything he can to make Livy comfortable in the home he has lived in all of his life. But it takes a visit from Livy�s sister, who presents an opportunity for Livy to return home, and a friendship with a Japanese family who live in a nearby internment camp, for her to begin to see the magic that ordinary life with Ray has to offer. THE MAGIC OF ORDINARY DAYS is produced by Hallmark Hall of Fame Productions. Richard Welsh ("The Blackwater Lightship") is the executive producer; Jim O�Grady ("The Outlaws") and Brent Shields ("A Painted House") are the producers. Shields also serves as director from a script by Camille Thomasson ("Luther") based on the book by Ann Howard Creel."
THE POOR BASTARD (HBO, New!) - David X. Cohen ("Futurama") and Donick Carey ("The Simpsons") are developing a small screen version of Joe Matt's semi-autobiographical graphic novel of the same name for the pay channel. The cult comic, written and drawn by Matt, revolves around his romantic foibles, not to mention his addiction to pornography. The project is expected to mix both live action and animation along the lines of the recent HBO Films feature "American Splendor," which is also based on a cult comic book. Cohen, Carey and Matt will all executive produce "Bastard" should it go to series.
SORRY CHARLIE (FOX) - Wayne Knight ("Seinfeld") has joined the cast of the comedy pilot, about parents (Stephen Root and Valerie Bertinelli) who struggle with the fact that their kids are growing up. He'll play the happily unmarried brother of Root's character. Sony Pictures Television and Jersey Television are behind the project, which also stars Taylor Handley, Michelle Alexis and Nadia Aajani.
STARTING OVER (Syndication) - NBC Enterprises and Bunim-Murray Productions have confirmed the series will relocate to Los Angeles from Chicago for its second season, which has been cleared on local stations covering 86% of the country. "Over" averaged a solid 1.0 rating in women 18-49 during February sweeps, up nearly 25% from its November performance. The move will also help save some costs for Bunim-Murray as its post-production facilities are located in Los Angeles. "Over" will repeat its first cycle of 65 episodes beginning in June, with former castmembers returning to offer commentary and answer fan mail.
STREET SMARTS (Syndication) - Cable's GSN, formerly known as the Game Show Network, has acquired the show's first four seasons to begin airing weeknights at 11:00/10:00c as part of its new summer programming block. The 640-episode run is scheduled to begin Monday, June 14. Dawn Syndicated Productions is behind the series in assocation with Telepictures Productions.
THAT '70S SHOW (FOX) - Mark Hudis, a co-executive producer on the series, has signed a two-year, seven-figure overall deal with 20th Century Fox Television. The pact, which kicks in after Hudis completes work on "That '70s Show's" 2004-05 season, calls for Hudis to create, develop and executive produce series projects for the studio. In addition, he's snagged a blind premium script commitment from 20th for a new comedy targeted for the 2005-06 season.
UNTITLED BRIAN BUCKER PROJECT (FOX, New!) - Brian Buckner ("Friends") has inked a premium script deal with 20th Century Fox Television and Fox Broadcasting Co. for a new comedy series for the network. Bucker served as a co-executive producer of "Friends'" during its final season.
UNTITLED DOMINIC PURCELL PROJECT (FOX, New!) - The former "John Doe" star has signed a talent holding deal with the network. The pact, which runs through next year, calls for FOX to cast the actor in one of its existing projects or potentially develop a new series for him.
Sources: Variety, The Hollywood Reporter, Reuters