LOS ANGELES (thefutoncritic.com) -- The latest development news, culled from recent wire reports:
Looking to keep track of all the various pilots and other projects in development? Be sure to check out our detailed production chart listings by clicking here.
AMERICAN GIRLS: SAMANTHA (WB) - Mia Farrow ("Rosemary's Baby"), Anna Sophia Robb ("Because of Winn-Dixie"), Kelsey Lewis ("Curb Your Enthusiasm"), Rebecca Mader ("All My Children") and Jordan Bridges ("Mona Lisa Smile") are set as the principal cast of the Frog's first-ever original movie, based on the bestselling line of books and dolls from Mattel, about a 9-year-old orphan girl named Samantha Parkington (Robb) who moves in with her grandmother (Farrow) and learns how to become a proper Victorian young lady in 1904. Lewis will play Nellie, a servant girl who's Samantha's best friend, while Mader is set as Samantha's Aunt Cornelia and Bridges as her Uncle Gard. Revolution Studios, Red Om Films, Pleasant Co. and Warner Bros. Television are all behind the project, which is slated to air some time next year. Elaine Goldsmith-Thomas, Rachael Horovitz, Deborah Schindler, Lisa Gillan and feature writer Richard LaGravenese are the telefilm's executive producers.
BROOKE ELLISON (A&E) - Christopher Reeve has been tapped to direct the cable channel's biopic of Brooke Ellison, an 11-year-old quadriplegic who went on to graduate from Harvard. Reeve had previously been attached as a co-producer on the project, which is based on Ellison's autobiographical novel, "Miracles Happen: One Mother, One Daughter, One Journey." Production is scheduled to begin next month in New Orleans on the telefilm, with Reeve directing from an adapation by Camille Thomasson ("Luther"). Interestingly enough, "Ellison" marks the cable channel's first domestically produced original movie to date. The project, which is executive produced by Howard Meltzer, Howard Braunstein and Michael Jaffe, is targeted for a December premiere date.
THE DEAD ZONE (USA) - USA has announced the show's third season is set to kick off Sunday, June 6 at 10:00/9:00c.
DESIGN INTERVENTION (NBC, New!) - "Trading Spaces'" Vern Yip is set to be the focus of a new design makeover series from NBC Studios, One Ladder Productions and Revolution Studios. Each episode of the project will focus on a family who started building their house by themselves, or bought an older house to renovate themselves, but for whatever reason -- anything from time, money or lack of experience -- didn't finish it and are living in the middle of a giant mess. Yip and his team of experts will then complete the house over the course of the installment. Production is scheduled to begin in June on the pilot.
FIVE DAYS TO MIDNIGHT (Sci Fi) - The cable channel has confirmed the five-part mini-series will run Monday through Friday at 9:00/8:00c beginning June 7. Each installment will also encore at 10:00/9:00c and 11:00/10:00c that night as well as at 8:00/7:00c the following day leading into the next episode.
FRASIER (NBC) - Paramount Network Television chief Garry Hart reportedly met with several NBC executives last week about the possibility of a spin-off of the soon-to-conclude series, which would chronicle the next phase in Frasier's life. Only Kelsey Grammer would make the transition to the new series, which more than likely would place Dr. Crane in a new city. Nevertheless both parties vehemently deny the meeting took place. Regardless, those familiar with the unconfirmed meeting say the Peacock flatly turned down the potential continuation of the "Cheers"/"Frasier" franchise. NBC had the right of first refusal for any "Frasier" spin-off, so with the negotiating window now closed Paramount is free to pitch the series to other broadcast networks. Key to any future of the franchise however is the involvement of Grammer, who has said on several occassions he wouldn't have minded continuing with the series for another season.
THE GENTLEMAN (FX, New!) - Feature writer Sheldon Turner ("The Longest Yard") have scored a script commitment from the cable channel for a new drama which follows the day-to-day life of a likable medical supplies salesman from the Midwest who happens to be fending off a penchant for murder. 20th Century Fox Television is behind the project, which reportedly is close to landing Scott Foley ("A.U.S.A.") for the lead role. Foley would play a seemingly straight-arrow guy -- battling the occasional urge to kill -- who moves to the city to help straighten out his alcoholic younger brother at the behest of his parents. The series would also track the quirky, antisocial IRS investigator searching for him.
THE GUARDIAN (CBS) - The Eye has given a two-year extension to its overall deal with producer Mark Johnson and his Gran Via banner. Johnson currently serves as an executive producer on "The Guardian," which wraps its third season this week on CBS. In addition, Johnson (who was also behind the short-lived Eye dramas "L.A. Doctors" and "Falcone") has hired Bryan Seabury to serve as vice president of Gran Via, where he'll handle all development for the company. Beyond television, Gran Via is also behind several recent and upcoming features, including "The Wendell Baker Story," "The Chronicles of Narnia," "The Alamo" and "The Notebook."
THE HIGH LIFE (NBC, New!) - Production has completed on a pilot for a new "The Simple Life"-esque reality series in which a rural family from coal mining country gets a chance to experience the lifestyle of the rich and famous by moving to Beverly Hills. Ken Mok ("America's Next Top Model") and his 10 by 10 Entertainment are behind the project, which has drawn early comparisons to CBS' non-starter "The Real Beverly Hillbillies." Said Eye project drew loud protests from several politicians, most notably Sen. Zell Miller (D-Ga.). Mok and his team are quick to dismiss the similarities, noting that "High" is more about poking fun of the rich and powerful as the rural family comes off as heroes in the story with the rich coming off as the aliens. The family stayed at Trousdale Estates mansion in Beverly Hills for five days during the shoot, during which they dined on escargot at L'Orangerie, attended a chamber orchestra concert and dealt with a caterer who specialized in organic foods.
HUFF (Showtime) - Lara Flynn Boyle ("The Practice") has signed on to appear in a multi-episode arc on the upcoming drama series, which is now scheduled to premiere this fall. She'll play a bipolar manic-depressive patient in several episodes of the project, which comes from Sony Pictures Television, about a Los Angeles psychiatrist (Hank Azaria) whose life is sent reeling when one of his patients, a 15-year-old, commits suicide in his office.
HUSTLE: THE PETE ROSE STORY (ESPN) - Tom Sizemore ("Robbery Homicide Division") is set to play the disgraced baseball star in the cable channel's upcoming biopic of Pete Rose. Peter Bogdanovich ("The Mystery of Natalie Wood") is directing the project, which is begins filming next week in Toronto for a September 25 premiere date. Sizemore himself has been no stranger to controversy, as the actor was recently sentenced six months in jail for beating then girlfriend Heidi Fleiss. The actor has been scheduled to begin his term in January however imposition has been delayed by the court and is still pending. Christian Darren ("Count Three and Pray") wrote the script to "Hustle" while Orly Adelson of Orly Adelson Productions ("The Junction Boys") will executive produce.
LIVING IT UP WITH ALI & JACK (Syndication) - King World Productions has officially pulled the plug on the freshman talk show, despite early clearances for a second season. The series, which underwent a significant format and style change in January, most recently averaged a 1.0 national household rating. Production is expected to conclude on May 27 with episodes continuing to run until September 10.
MISSING (A.K.A. 1-800-MISSING) (Lifetime) - Mark Consuelos ("All My Children") is set to join the cast of the recently retitled drama when it returns for a second season in July. He'll play Antonio Cortez, "a charming, strong, and extremely intelligent FBI Special Agent and former colleague of Nicole's [Vivica A. Fox]. But there is much more to this attractive Evidence Specialist than just analyzing DNA. Antonio comes from the streets, which gives him his drive and carefully-hidden needs to succeed in this highly competitive field. He is a loyal team member who speaks his mind freely and will stop at nothing to find missing people," according to a network press release. "Missing" stars stars Fox ("Kill Bill Vol. 1") as Nicole Scott, "a hard-nosed FBI agent who'll bend any rule to solve a missing person's case, Caterina Scorsone ("Once a Thief," "Power Play") as Jess Mastriani, a novice agent whose psychic abilities have a proven track record in solving many open cases and Justin Louis ("Hidden Hills," "Dawn of the Dead") as John Pollack, a brilliant, shrewd and driven leader of the FBI's Alternative Methods Task Force." Fox replaces former lead Gloria Reuben, who left the series to pursue other opportunities.
MONK (USA) - The cable network has confirmed "Monk" will return for its third season on Friday, June 18 at 10:00/9:00c, one week after the season finale of fellow original drama "Touching Evil."
RIVERMAN (A&E) - Production is set to begin later this month in Halifax, Nova Scotia on a new docudrama about the Green River serial killer, the story of which inspired the Oscar-winning feature "The Silence of the Lambs." Bill Eagles ("Book of Ruth") is directing the project, which is executive produced by Peter Lance and Hawk Koch ("Primal Fear"), from an adaptation by Tom Towler and Lance ("J.A.G."). "Riverman" tells the true story of an investigator who was aided by convicted murderer Ted Bundy to bring the Green River serial killer to justice. A&E has targeted the telefilm for a September air date.
THE SIMPSONS (FOX) - Voice actors Dan Castellaneta, Hank Azaria, Harry Shearer, Yeardley Smith, Julie Kavner and Nancy Cartwright are all set to return to work this week as the group has agreed to terms on new multi-year contracts with 20th Century Fox Television that will pay them around $250,000 each per episode. That's double their current salaries ($125,000) but well below their previous asking price of $360,000 per episode (read the story). The cast members also fell short of their goal of a earning a stake in the show's profits. Castellaneta and company had been missing from work on the series since the beginning on April in an effort to renegotiate their contacts. Despite early rumblings however, the work stoppage won't keep "The Simpsons" from completing a full season of 22 episodes to begin airing this fall. "We couldn't be happier to have reached a multiyear deal with the enormously talented cast of 'The Simpsons,' " 20th said in a statement to the press. "Fans will be pleased to know that despite our recent production delay, we are optimistic that they can look forward to a full season's episodes next year on Fox and hopefully many years to come." According to industry insiders, the chief issue for 20th was the relatively small amount of time the voice cast spends on the series - estimated between six to seven hours per episode - when compared to the rest of the production team.
THE SWAN (FOX) - FOX has committed to a second cycle of 11 episodes of the series, which has averaged a solid 9.1 million viewers, including a 4.2 rating and 10 share among adults 18-49, through four airings. The news marks the fastest pick-up for a reality series by FOX to date. The new season is currently expected to roll out in the fall, along with a "Where Are They Now" special revisiting some of the show's makeover recipients. The current season of "The Swan," which comes from FremantleMedia North America, Galan Entertainment and A. Smith & Co., is scheduled to wrap with a two-hour finale on Monday, May 24.
UNTITLED CHRISTOPHER MCDONALD PROJECT (FOX, New!) - Actor Christopher McDonald, most recently seen in FOX's "Cracking Up," has signed a talent holding deal with the network. The news spells the end of the short-lived comedy, which has been on hiatus since its April 5 airing. The pact kicks in immediately with McDonald likely being placed in one of FOX's upcoming projects.
UNTITLED ERIC CHRISTIAN OLSEN PROJECT (FOX, New!) - The young actor ("Dumb & Dumberer: When Harry Met Lloyd") has signed a talent holding deal with FOX. While best known for his comic work -- Olsen was once attached to the NBC pilot "Americana" -- it's his dramatic work that reportedly impressed Marcia Schulman, FOX's vice president of casting. Schulman apparently was blown away by his guest spot on "24" last season, in which he played the son of George Mason's character.
UNTITLED HOWARD DEAN PROJECT (Syndication, New!) - Former presidential candidate Howard Dean has pacted with ex-Big Ticket Television president Larry Lyttle ("Judge Judy") and longtime political consultant Gerald Rafshoon to develop a new talk show for first-run syndication. Dean and company are expected to meet with several TV executives this week, including Paramount Domestic Television where Lyttle is still based, about the series, which is said to focus on such items as "What happens if you lose a sibling? What about when you're victimized by not having health care?" Lyttle is best known for launching the smash syndie hit "Judge Judy." Should the talk show move forward both Lyttle and Rafshoon will likely serve as executive producers.
UNTITLED R.J. CUTLER PROJECT (FX, New!) - Emmy-winning documentarian R.J. Cutler is once again getting into the reality series game, as the prolific producer ("Freshman Diaries," "American High," "American Candidate," "The Residents," "The Real Roseanne Show") is developing a new project which examines race relations by chronicling the lives of a white family and a black family, possibly living under one roof. A nationwide talent search is currently underway to find both families for the potential series, which is still in the early stages of development. Cutler's "Candidate" was originally developed at FX before moving to Showtime.
THE WIRE (HBO) - The pay channel will begin encoring the show's second season on Sundays at 8:00/7:00c starting June 13 with the third season tentatively scheduled to launch Sunday, September 5.
Sources: Variety, The Hollywood Reporter, Reuters