LOS ANGELES (thefutoncritic.com) -- The latest development news, culled from recent wire reports:
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DUETS (FOX) - Simon Cowell and his production company, Syco, have inked a massive five-year, seven-to-eight figure overall production and development deal with Fox Television Studios. The pact calls for Cowell to develop programming exclusively for the studio, including the recently announced "Duets" for FOX. Said project received a cast-contingent series order earlier this month (read the story).
HALLMARK CHANNEL ORIGINAL MOVIES (Hallmark, New!) - The cable channel has provided several updates to its 2006 original programming schedule. In addition to the previously announced "Mystery Woman: At First Sight" (Saturday, January 21 a 9:00/8:00c), "Hidden Places" (Saturday, January 28 at 9:00/8:00c) and "Falling in Love with the Girl Next Door" (Saturday, February 4 at 9:00/8:00c), Hallmark has slated both "McBride: Fallen Idol" and the Doris Roberts/Judy Reyes-led original "Our House" for March with "Blackbeard" (featuring Angus MacFadyen) in June and "Desolation Canyon" (starring Stacy Keach and Patrick Duffy) in July. Meanwhile, the network is developing a mini-series remake of the 1940 Oscar-winning film "The Thief of Bagdad" from Robert Halmi Sr. as well as the Jerry Jenkins-penned ("Left Behind") original "Though None Go With Me" starring Cheryl Ladd and a fourth installment of the "Love's" movie franchise entitled "Love's Abiding Joy."
HUFF (Showtime) - The pay channel has confirmed the show's second season will bow on Sunday, April 1. There the series will take over the 10:00/9:00c hour from "The L Word," which wraps its third season the previous week.
LIPSTICK JUNGLE (NBC) - The Peacock is moving forward with its small-screen take on Candace Bushnell's book of the same name, about the lives of three powerful New York business women who would do anything to get ahead and stay on top. The NBC Universal Television-based project, which Bushnell co-wrote along with Robin Schiff, has been given the green light to produce a pilot. The news marks the first pilot order for NBC Entertainment's New York development unit. Bushnell and Schiff then will also serve as executive producers.
RUFFIAN (ABC/ESPN, New!) - ABC and ESPN are set to team for a new original movie about the true story of the racehorse hailed as the greatest thoroughbred of all time. Said project will premiere on ABC in June 2007 as part of the network's Belmont Stakes coverage, after which it will encore on the various ESPN networks - as well as air on the Internet via broadband on ESPN360, in high definition on ESPNHD, be available via video-on-demand and released on DVD - all within a four-day period. ESPN Original Entertainment will produce the project, which is set to begin principal photography in late February. No casting or producing details however were given.
THE RUNNER (ABC) - Former ABC chief Lloyd Braun, who currently heads the Yahoo! Media Group, is looking to revive the previously in the works concept as an Internet event for the web portal. Said project would follow the original concept, in which a designated operative ("the runner") has to elude capture by average folks as he or she travels across the country. Ben Affleck, Sean Bailey and Matt Damon, the trio behind the original ABC effort (along with Live Planet CEO Larry Tanz), are on board to executive produce the project, as is reality guru Mark Burnett. Originally developed in 2000 (and given a 13-episode order in 2001), the project was shelved due to production difficulties heightened by the aftermath of 9/11. As for specifics, it's believed the project will feature various clips (not half-hour or hour episodes as was the case for the ABC version) that will be uploaded daily to the site, all of which offer clues to the runner's whereabouts as well as feature an overarching story as to why this person is on the run. Additional clues will then also be given on the site and its various affiliates (think "Lost's" various web sites). One grand prize winner then is expected to receive a multi-million dollar prize with additional smaller prizes being offered throughout the event. Braun reportedly could have the one-to-two month long project ready by the summer, however Yahoo! CEO Terry Semel has yet to give "The Runner" the firm green light. Additional details, including the possibility of a TV special, are expected to be announced soon.
SECRETS OF A SMALL TOWN (ABC, New!) - Writer/producer Chuck Pratt ("Desperate Housewives") has scored a pilot order from ABC and Touchstone Television for a new drama about a murder mystery set in a small town. Said project, which Pratt is writing and executive producing along with Chris Brancato and Bert Salke ("North Shore"), would track the murder of a teenage girl and the disappearance of her sister - events which kick off a chain reaction that leads to both emotional and humorous discoveries that have been long buried.
VANISHED (FOX) - Feature director Antoine Fuqua ("Training Day") has signed on to direct the 20th Century Fox Television-based drama pilot, which chronicles the disappearance of a senator's wife over the course of the season. In addition, he'll serve as an executive producer along with creator Josh Berman. Last season, Fuqua helmed the failed FOX drama pilot "Murder Book." As for "Vanished," FOX has ordered a pilot and two additional scripts for the project.
UNTITLED BONNIE HUNT PROJECT (ABC, New!) - Bonnie Hunt ("Life With Bonnie") is returning to the Alphabet, as the writer/comedian has booked a pilot order at the network for a single-camera comedy about a divorced woman (Hunt) who works at a detective agency. She'll star, direct and co-write the Touchstone Television-based project along with her longtime collaborator Don Lake.
Sources: Variety, The Hollywood Reporter, Reuters