LOS ANGELES (thefutoncritic.com) -- The latest development news, culled from recent wire reports:
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BETTY THE UGLY (ABC) - Feature director Richard Shepard ("The Matador"), who helmed the show's pilot this past development season (as well as "Criminal Minds's" pilot the year before that), has inked a mid-six-figure exclusive holding deal with NBC Universal Television. The pact calls for Shepard to direct at least one pilot for the studio during the next development season.
BEYOND (FOX) - FOX reportedly is close to ordering several additional scripts for the drama pilot, which is still said to be alive for a potential midseason order. The 20th Century Fox Television/Imagine Television-based hour revolves around the scientists at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory and their efforts to win the next space race following a global crisis. Adrian Lester, Jonah Lotan, Merrin Dungey, Rachael Stirling, Rachel Perry and Seth Gabel all star in the hour, which comes from creator David Self, director Breck Eisner and executive producers Brian Grazer and David Nevins.
BIANCA (Lifetime) - Virginia Williams ("How I Met Your Mother") has scored the lead role in the Lifetime telenovela, about the "forbidden love between a woman searching for a new life after being unfairly imprisoned and a wealthy man trapped into an impending loveless marriage." Said project, which is based on the popular German telenovela of the same name, received a 20-episode commitment from the cable channel earlier this month. Production is set to begin shortly in Australia with FremantleMedia North America producing. Williams spent the past development season attached to the NBC comedy pilot "The Great Malones," which wasn't ordered to series.
BIG DAY (ABC) - Writer/producer Justin Adler ("Sons and Daughters") has signed a two-year, seven-figure overall deal with Touchstone Television. The pact calls for him to develop new series projects for the studio however he'll initially be loaned out to ABC/Touchstone Television's "Big Day" as a co-executive producer.
BURY MY HEART AT WOUNDED KNEE (HBO, New!) - "Law & Order" creator Dick Wolf is developing a small-screen version of Dee Brown's best-selling 1970 book "Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee: An Indian History of the American West." The project will use the book's exhaustive council records, firsthand accounts and other resources to tell the saga of the American Indian during the latter half of the 19th century, including the battles, massacres and broken treaties. Daniel Giat ("Path to War") is attached to pen the telefilm with Yves Simoneau ("Ruffian") directing and Wolf and Tom Thayer ("Faith of My Fathers") serving as executive producers.
C.S.I.: N.Y. (CBS) - Peter Lenkov, a co-executive producer on the "C.S.I." spin-off, has inked a three-year overall deal with CBS Paramount Network Television. The pact, financial details of which weren't specified, calls for him to be upped to executive producer starting this season as well as develop new projects for the studio.
CABLE RATINGS ROUND-UP (Various) - The return of TNT's "The Closer" (8.28 million, 2.0/5 in adults 18-49) was cable's top draw for the week of June 12-18 with the premiere of "Saved" (5.10 million, 1.6/4 in adults 18-49) taking an impressive fourth place. Both series however took dips in their second weeks, with "The Closer" down 26.21% and 25.00% respectively (6.11 million, 1.5/4 in adults 18-49 on 6/19/06) and "Saved" off 30.98% and 31.25% respectively (3.52 million, 1.1/3 on 6/19/06). Also finishing in the top 15 for the week of June 12-18, Sci Fi's premiere of the "ECW" (3.4 million, #7) and "The 4,400" (3.11 million, #T13; 1.3/3 in adults 18-49) and "The Dead Zone" (3.02 million, #T15; 1.3/3 in adults 18-49) on USA. Over on HBO, week two of its new Sunday lineup - "Deadwood" (1.9 million), "Entourage" (2.2 million) and "Lucky Louie" (1.3 million) - all took dips from their bows last week (2.4 million, 2.7 million and 1.5 million respectively). And over on FX, "Rescue Me" (2.6 million) held steady from last week's audience but is down 19% overall from its season premiere.
THE COMPANY (TNT) - Chris O'Donnell ("Grey's Anatomy") and Alfred Molina have both joined the cast of the upcoming limited series at the cable channel, a small-screen adaptation of Robert Littell's best-selling book of the same name about the history of the activities of the C.I.A. during the Cold War. Michael Keaton and Tom Hollander are also said to be in talks to join the six-hour, Sony Pictures Television-based project, which comes from executive producers Ridley Scott, Tony Scott, John Calley and Cary Brokaw. O'Donnell will play Jack McCauliffe, an idealistic Yale graduate who is recruited into the CIA in 1954 whose revolve is tested over the years by politics, betrayal and love. Molina then is set as "The Sorcerer," a mysterious figure who develops many of the techniques that formed the template of the C.I.A. Mikael Salomon is directing the project, due to air next summer, from a script by Ken Nolan.
DESPERATE HOUSEWIVES (ABC) - Writer/producer Kevin Murphy has inked a new two-year overall deal with Touchstone Television. The seven-figure pact, which has an option for a third year, calls for Murphy to continue in his role as a co-executive producer on the hit series as well as develop new projects for the studio.
THE GAME (The CW) - Pooch Hall ("Pepper Dennis") and Brittany Daniel ("Little Man") have both joined the cast of the comedy series, about the women in the lives of a group of professional football players. Daniel, who spent the past development cycle attached to the NBC comedy pilot "Community Service," will play Kelly Parker, a role played by Jennifer Baxter in the original backdoor pilot episode of "Girlfriends." Details on Hall's character however weren't specified.
LIPSTICK JUNGLE (NBC) - Writer/producer Rand Ravich ("The Astronaut's Wife") is understood to have come aboard the drama pilot, which is still under consideration for a midseason order. Gina Gershon, Matthew Morrison, Melissa George and Scott Cohen all star in the NBC Universal Television-based hour, about "three uber-successful women who will do anything, including jeopardizing their personal and professional relationships, to get ahead." Candace Bushnell, whose book serves as the basis of the project, also serves as an executive producer.
MARCO POLO (TBA) - Ian Somerhalder ("Lost"), Brian Dennehy, B.D. Wong, Mark Jax and Alan Shearman have all joined the cast of RHI Entertainment's mini-series about the famed Venetian traveler. Somerhalder will play the title character in the project, which chronicles Polo's (Somerhalder) 13th century travel to Mongolia, where he was accepted as an envoy into the court of Kublai Khan (Dennehy) and spent 20 years of perilous adventure. Jax and Shearman then are set as Polo's father Niccolo Polo and uncle Maffeo Polo respectively, who first traveled the Silk Road to China and met Kublai Khan when Marco was a young boy, with Wong as Polo's servant and right-hand man. Kevin Connor ("In the Beginning") is directing the mini-series from a script by Ron Hutchinson (ABC's "The Ten Commandments"), production of which began in China this week. Originally believed to be set up at the Hallmark Channel, the project has yet to land a U.S. TV outlet.
MEDIUM (NBC) - Rene Echevarria has signed a two-year, mid-seven-figure overall deal with CBS Paramount Network Television. The pact will cover the writer/producer's duties on the NBC drama as well as any development for the studio during the period.
THE PATH TO 9/11 (A.K.A. UNTITLED 9/11 COMMISSION PROJECT) (ABC) - The Alphabet's long-in-the-works mini-series has been slated to premiere on Sunday, September 10 at 8:00/7:00c with part two airing Monday, September 11 at 8:00/7:00c. Harvey Keitel, Patricia Heaton, Amy Madigan, Shaun Toub and Stephen Root all star in the six-hour event, which details the events of the recent terror attacks against the United States, including those on 9/11, the 1993 World Trade Center bombing, the U.S.S. Cole and the disrupted millennium attacks. David L. Cunningham directed the project from a script by Cyrus Nowrasteh with Marc Platt executive producing.
PRISON BREAK (FOX) - William Fichtner ("Invasion") is set to join the cast of the serialized drama, which returns for its second season on Monday, August 21. He'll play Alexander "Buck" Mahone, who's described in the casting notice as follows: "30-40, this strong, highly intelligent, methodical FBI agent is the man in charge of tracking our escapees. Something in his cool, calm gaze suggests an intense acumen that is extremely similar to that of Michael Scofield - the ringleader of the seven convicts Mahone is pursuing." Fichtner's casting ends an exhaustive search by the show's producers, who were forced to postpone its Dallas-based production by one day until the deal was finalized as issues with the actor's feature schedule were still being hammered out.
UNTITLED RAY ROMANO PROJECT (HBO, New!) - Ray Romano ("Everybody Loves Raymond") is set to team with "24" creators Joel Surnow and Bob Cochran for a potential new 10-episode limited series for the pay channel. The single-camera project, which is still in the early stages of development, would star Romano as a fortysomething billionaire who has six months to live. Dennis Klein ("The Larry Sanders Show") has been tapped to write the script and executive produce alongside Surnow, Cochran and Romano with Howard Gordon (Surnow and Cochran's partner at their Real Time Productions banner) also likely being involved.
VANISHED (FOX) - Josh Hopkins ("Pepper Dennis") has booked a multi-episode arc on the fall drama, about the search for a missing senator's wife (Joanne Kelly) and the vast, sinister conspiracy behind it. Hopkins reportedly will play a man with information about the missing wife's past. Meanwhile, writer/producer Chris Black ("Desperate Housewives") has come aboard the project as a co-executive producer. His involvement is a result of a two-year, seven-figure overall deal Black signed with "Vanished" producer 20th Century Fox Television. The pact also calls for him to potentially develop new projects for the studio.
THE WEDDING ALBUM (FOX) - Writer/producers Gretchen Berg and Aaron Harberts ("Pepper Dennis") has been tapped as the new executive producers/showrunners of the midseason drama, about a wedding photographer and his assistant, who attempt to find romance in their own lives while shooting the marriages of New York hotshots. They'll take over the Fox TV Studios-based project from its original creators Andy Tenant and Wink Mordaunt. It's understood the entire pilot will be scrapped, recast and reshot. Tenant and Mordaunt however will still receive a producing credit, as will Bob Greenblatt and David Janollari, whose Greenblatt-Janollari Studio originally developed the series five years ago.
Sources: Variety, The Hollywood Reporter, Reuters