LOS ANGELES (thefutoncritic.com) -- The latest development news, culled from recent wire reports:
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A&E ORIGINAL MOVIES (A&E, New!) - The cable channel released details on several original movies in the works at its annual upfront presentation today. Fox Television Studios and David Gerber's the Gerber Co. are behind "Flight 93," which will re-create the events on board United Airlines Flight 93 on September 11, 2001 that resulted in the fatal crash in Somerset County, Pennsylvania. Nevin Shreiner is writing the script to the project using public records to document the final moments leading up to the tragedy. Also in the works is "Johnny Cash," a biopic of the singer's early life and his relationship with wife June Carter Cash from director Allison Anders and writer Joyce Eliason. The project is set up at Sofronski Productions in association with the Konigsberg Co. with Bernard Sofronski and Frank Konigsberg executive producing.
Meanwhile, Howard Braunstein and Michael Jaffe ("10.5") are behind "Touch the Top of the World," based on Erik Weihenmayer's memoir of his experiences going blind at age 13 but overcoming the odds to become a world-class mountain climber. The pair will executive produce through their Jaffe-Braunstein Films with Peter Silverman writing the script and Mark Sennet producing. An adaptation was previously in the works at ABC however did not move forward. Delia Fine is executive producing all three projects for A&E with David Craig serving as supervising producer on "Flight 93" and "Johnny Cash" and Emilio Nunez on "Touch."
In addition, A&E is shepherding "Celluloid Titans," about the relationship between filmmaking heavyweights George Lucas and Steven Spielberg. Granada Television and executive producer Jody Brockway are behind the project, which will track the friendly but competitive directors during the tipping points of their respective careers. Norman Snider is writing the script, which is expected to mirror the tone of TNT's 1999 Bill Gates/Steve Jobs original "Pirates of Silicon Valley." Finally, Ted Danson ("Becker") is set to star in "Young Knights," about an English teacher who inspires a class of under-privileged kids in New York's South Bronx by teaching them chess. Allen Hughes ("Touching Evil") is directing the Fox TV Studios-based project with Diane Nabatoff executive producing.
A&E ORIGINAL SERIES (A&E, New!) - The cable channel has committed to 10 episodes of "Random 1," a new unscripted series which features a SWAT team of do-gooders as they ambush everyday folks and attempt to solve their problems. The pilot presentation for example featured the team helping a down-on-her-luck small-town stripper land an audition with a top modeling agency in Manhattan, Andre Miller and John Chester created the project and will executive produce with A&E's Nancy Dubuc and Rob Sharenow via Random 1 Productions. Also in the works at the network is a pilot for a new reality series about the domestic life of rocker Gene Simmons as well as the previously announced "Single Again," "Little Red Man" and "Spying on Myself." In addition, A&E confimed docu-soaps "Inked" and "Criss Angel Mindfreak" will premiere in July, while "Roller Girls" is set to debut in January.
DESPERATE HOUSEWIVES (ABC) - Mehcad Brooks ("Boston Public") has been cast as the son of new cast member Alfre Woodard on the hit ABC drama. Like Woodard, he'll make his first appearance in the final two episodes of this season. In addition, he'll return next season as a recurring character with an option to become a regular. No other details were released about his character.
RED & BLUE (ABC) - The Alphabet has confirmed the pilot has been delayed until midseason consideration, citing casting troubles as the chief issue. This undoubtedly was tied to the fact it was one of the last broadcast network pilots greenlighted this season, leaving it on the shallow end of the casting pool. Production then will likely resume this summer after the broadcast networks have set their fall schedules so that more actors will be available. Dan Staley, Rob Long, Michael Bostick and Tom Shadyac are behind the Touchstone Television/Shady Acres-based "Red & Blue," about a liberal father and his conservative dad who butt heads over how to raise the next generation.
SILVER BELLS (CBS, New!) - Luanne Rice's best-selling novel of the same name is set to be a new Hallmark Hall of Fame presentation at the Eye starring Anne Heche ("Everwood"). The project, which will begin production next Thursday in Los Angeles, revolves around a widow (Heche) who takes a teenage boy under her wing after he gets in an argument with his Christmas tree farmer father while they sell trees in New York and runs away. The movie then tracks the father's return the next holiday season to sell his trees and look for his son, where he crosses paths with Heche's character. Dick Lowry (who helmed the Eye's last Rice adaptation, "Follow the Stars Home") is directing the telefilm from a script by Jim McGrath with Richard Welsh and Brent Shields executive producing.
TALK SHOW DIARIES (UPN) - Richard Ruccolo ("Two Guys and a Girl") has been taped to replace Brad Rowe on the comedy pilot, about the on- and off-camera exploits of the three female hosts (Nancy Travis, Kathleen Rose Perkins, Tami Roman) of a morning talk show. He'll take over as Blake Brown, who's described in the casting notice as: "30s. A handsome man. He's the executive producer of "Friends in the Morning." However, he's under no illusion that he's the "boss" of his dynamic all-female stars. Blake has a huge crush on the formidably cool and reserved Zoe, but he can't figure out what her story - make that her sexual orientation - really is. Meanwhile, he keeps snooping around trying to get a handle on the situation, but so far he's still very much in the dark." Richard T. Jones also stars in the Touchstone Television/Coquette Productions-based project, which comes from executive producers Courteney Cox, David Arquette and Allison Gibson.
THICK & THIN (NBC) - Josh Stamberg ("A Lot Like Love"), Sharon Gless ("Queer as Folk"), Amy Halloran ("Surviving Christmas") and Chris Parnell ("Saturday Night Live") have all joined the cast of the comedy pilot, about an obese woman (Jessica Capshow) who turns thin and struggles in her relationships with her still-large family and friends. Details on their respective roles however were not specified. Martin Mull also stars in the NBC Universal Television/Broadway Video-based project, which comes from executive producers Paula Pell, Lorne Michaels and Joann Alfano. In addition, Stamberg has booked a guest starring role on the CBS drama pilot "Love Monkey." No details were given about his role on that project either.
UNTITLED JERRY BRUCKHEIMER/MARSH MCCALL PROJECT (CBS) - Jonathan Pryce ("Tomorrow Never Dies") has joined the cast of the comedy pilot, about three adult siblings (Jonathan Silverman, Reid Scott, Katherine Waterston) doing their best to deal with their eccentric, newly single father when their mother leaves him. Pryce will play said father in the Warner Bros. Television/Bruckheimer Television-based project, which comes from Marsh McCall, Jerry Bruckheimer and Jonathan Littman.
WILL & GRACE (NBC) - The Peacock is reportedly close to renewing the veteran comedy for an eighth season. While neither the network nor the producers have commented on any potential deal, it's expected the license fee will be less than its current estimated $5 million per episode price tag due to its ratings decline this season. Potentially holding up the deal however will be re-signing stars Debra Messing, Eric McCormack, Sean Hayes and Megan Mullally, all of whom would have to take pay cuts to come under the reduced license fee. In any case, talks are said to be much more civil than the show's previous renewal talks, which eventually saw creators David Kohan and Max Mutchnick file a lawsuit against NBC in 2003 claiming that they were short-changed.
Sources: Variety, The Hollywood Reporter, Reuters and Audiences Unlimited