CHICAGO (thefutoncritic.com) -- The first of cable's upfront presentations to advertisers kicked off on Monday as the Sci Fi Channel unveiled its development slate for the 2003-04 season and beyond. The network is coming off another record breaking quarter as Sci Fi has increased its ratings in year-to-year comparisons in each of the last 11 months, a claim no other network, broadcast or cable, can make. Sci Fi hopes to continue its hot streak with a host of original dramas, reality series, mini-series and telefilms for the upcoming season.
Here's a rundown of the projects in development that were announced:
ORIGINAL DRAMA SERIES
CLIVE BARKER'S THE EVIL ONE -- Created for SCI FI from the visionary mind of Clive Barker ("Wishmaster," "Lord of Illusions," "Hellraiser," "Candyman") comes a new exploration in thriller fiction. It's not always easy being the bad guy -- and, frankly, it's hard to get truly evil help these days. Told from the perspective of an evil demon, this new series from Barker turns traditional narrative on its ear -- where each week, the forces of good and evil do battle. However, in this weekly series, the Anti-Hero often wins ... Produced by Seraphim, Inc. Executive produced by Clive Barker. Format by Barker. Distributed by USA Cable Entertainment.
DEAD LAWYERS -- DreamWorks Television ("Taken") produces this one-hour series with a deliciously judicious concept. Sleazy unscrupulous lawyers, in order to redeem themselves, come back from the dead to defend everyone they screwed when they were alive -- and it's all pro bono! When hotshot defense attorney Jimmy Quinn is run over by a bus, he finds himself in his own version of hell: a law firm on earth composed of other dead lawyers, all trying to right miscarriages of justice in order to redeem themselves. Executive produced by The Zanuck Company and DreamWorks Television. Distributed by USACE. Story by Christopher Murphey and Andy Lieberman. Script by Murphey.
THE DIVIDE -- What if the weirdest trio you could imagine -- a latenight DJ, his dead twin sister, and the local coroner -- teamed up to fight crime? In this new mystery series, a knowingly bogus late-night radio psychic discovers his abilities are real when visited by the ghost of his twin sister. Together with the aid of the local female coroner, they put together the missing pieces of unsolved crimes. A little supernatural vision from beyond the grave mixed with forensic science here on earth -- a perfect recipe for solving the intriguing mysteries of the dead and the living! Produced for SCI FI by Lions Gate, the production company behind USA Network's hit show "The Dead Zone," executive produced by Stan Brooks and written by Frank Military and Dean White.
LEGION -- Whoopi Goldberg, Stephen Garrett and Jane Featherstone executive produce this series about a young man who sells his soul to the devil to save his daughter's life. He soon discovers the price he has paid is higher than he thought possible. He must leave his family -- and wander the world with the terrifying ability to recognize other demonically possessed souls. Our hero begins an action-packed adventure to destroy the minions of darkness, and perhaps free himself from eternal damnation. Produced by Kudos Film & Television, Ltd., Whoop, Inc. and Tom Leonardis, written by Tony Jordan, and distributed by USACE.
PAINKILLER JANE (in development, 2-hour backdoor pilot) -- Based on the Event Comics series, SCI FI and MGM Worldwide Television once again partner, this time to bring to life a virtually indestructible super-heroine for the new millennium, Painkiller Jane. This action-hero series is based on a young marine officer, Jane Browning, who is exposed to a biochemical weapon that changes her genetically, endowing her with incredible self-healing powers. She becomes an ultra-covert agent fighting crime while struggling to remain free from those who would now use her gifts for sinister purposes. Written by John Harrison (writer/director SCI FI's "Frank Herbert's Dune" & writer/co-producer "Children of Dune") and Don Opper. Harrison, Opper and Greg Gold are attached as executive producers. Harrison will direct.
STARGATE: ATLANTIS -- A whole new adventure with a new team begins in the successful Stargate universe. In this spin-off from MGM Worldwide Television, a secret base left by the originators of the Stargate is found in the most unlikely of places-on Earth buried within the ruins of the legendary civilization Atlantis. The implications of this discovery lead the team to a distant universe, where they find a primitive human civilization threatened by a sinister new enemy.
SUTURE GIRL -- Developed from the Gretchen Culver character in the incredibly popular "Spawn" comic book series, this action series features an extraordinary heroine. After being violently murdered by a serial killer, a beautiful former advertising executive is literally stitched back to life and imbued with special powers by a mysterious gypsy woman. Now, living amongst her new family in the gypsy community, Suture -- still curiously beautiful -- is a voice for the oppressed and a court of last resort, as she fearlessly fights evil with the help of a handsome crusading lawyer. Written by Alan McElroy ("Spawn," "Ecks vs. Sever"), the back-door pilot will be executive produced for SCI FI by Fireworks Entertainment and Edmonds Entertainment's CEO/President Tracey E. Edmonda, Kenny "Babyface" Edmonds, and Edmonds Entertainment's head of television Sheila Ducksworth. McFarlane will also serve as a producer.
TOTAL ECLIPSE -- Jeremy Cross arrives at his new teaching and research position at Greylock, a beautiful and prestigious college, only to discover that the school is a nexus of the otherworldly, arcane, and supernatural. As if tenure wasn't hard enough to get, the faculty's I.Q. goes up every year, intelligent wolves roam the forests, and the research covers time travel, extrasensory perception, and anything else on the edge of science. Distributed by USACE. Executive produced and written by Steve Aspis.
Previously announced series projects currently in development include "Quantum Leap," "Anonymous Rex," Reveille's "1,000 Days" and "Brother Voodoo."
ORIGINAL REALITY SERIES AND SPECIALS
LAB RATS -- SCI FI takes consumer reporting to the max in this new weekly reality series. In Lab Rats, outrageous claims and miracle promises get put to the test in the real world. We've got our own set of "lab rats" ready to put futuristic products to the test personally ... can you really sleep fat away? Re-grow hair? Make someone fall in love with you? Find out as the super-sleuths at SCI FI separate the scams from the secrets. Produced by Hallock & Healey Entertainment, Scott Hallock and Kevin Healey ("Spy TV," "Scare Tactics") serve as executive producers.
THE ILLUSIONIST SPECIAL -- Just in time for Halloween, this mind-blowing show, featuring a master illusionist, is a provocative exploration of the unbelievable that will leave viewers doubting their senses. Taped in Universal's Orlando theme park.
LIFE ON MARS -- Trying to survive on a deserted island is for weaklings! In this weekly one-hour reality drama, two colonies of people (12 total) take on the struggle for survival off-planet, as they attempt to live in a realistic Mars base. The two teams will contend with physical hazards and psychological obstacles in an ultra-convincing simulation of what life on the fourth planet might be like. This high-octane, low-oxygen series will be distributed by USA Cable Entertainment and produced by Wall To Wall.
MAD MAD HOUSE -- "Can't we all just get along?" Between a vampire, a witch, a voodoo priest, a yoga master, and a psychic, life at Alt Manor is liable to get pretty strange. When the roost is ruled by those with alternative lifestyles, you can witness the mayhem, humor and sheer fun unfold as our "Joe Normal" contestants compete in a series of increasingly bizarre challenges in order to claim the grand prize. Produced by Arthur Smith and Kent Weed from A. Smith & Company, the series will be distributed by USA Cable Entertainment.
PSYCHIC INVESTIGATORS -- A body is found. Another crime unsolved. For a detective without any leads, there is only one option left: a psychic. From the producers of "The FBI Files" and "The New Detectives" comes an exciting new investigative series, "Psychic Investigators." Follow real life criminal investigations in which a skilled psychic conducts surveillance on a suspect or provides the key to solving a crime. Produced by New Dominion Pictures.
SCI FI DECLASSIFIED SPECIALS -- SCI FI Declassified is a new series of original two-hour documentary specials, in the spirit of the highly successful "The Roswell Crash: Startling New Evidence" (SCI FI's highest rated original special). This franchise will launch with four groundbreaking investigations that uncover new and explosive evidence using the forensic tools of modern science -- exploring the often blurry line between science fiction and science fact.
SIX DAYS 'TIL SUNDAY (6-hour mini-series) -- SCI FI takes yet another scheduling risk with this big event miniseries, which unfolds over six consecutive nights. In this intriguing premise, J.T. Neumeyer stumbles upon a mysterious briefcase foretelling his own gruesome murder -- in just six days. In this high stakes race against time, J.T. scrambles to uncover the truth and change the course of the future -- if he can. Brought to SCI FI by executive producer David Kirschner ("Frailty," "Earth: Final Conflict" and "The Flintstones"), the miniseries is produced by Lions Gate Films (USA's "The Dead Zone").
THE THING (4-hour miniseries) -- It's everywhere. It's anything. And it can't be stopped. SCI FI re-envisions the terrifying suspense classic, The Thing, which follows a team of American scientists who discover a bloodthirsty alien life form in the frozen expanse of Antarctica. Swift, stealthy and cunning, this shape-shifting monster assumes the appearance of its victims with the aims of earning the scientists' trust -- and decimating the group from the inside. Who can be trusted, and who is a threat? The miniseries, written by Gary L. Goldman ("Minority Report," "Total Recall"), will be distributed by USACE.
Other previously announced projects currently in development include Kim Stanley Robinson's "Red Mars," "A Tale of Two Cities," "MYST," "The Forever War," as well as Ursula Le Guin's "Earthsea" trilogy series and literary classic "Left Hand of Darkness."
Additionally, SCI FI begins production April 1 on the 4-hour miniseries "Battlestar Galactica," a re-imagining of the classic series. The project stars Edward James Olmos and Mary McDonnell, among others, and is slated to premiere in December '03.
DRAGON STORM -- Stars Maxwell Caulfield, John Rhys-Davies and Angel Borris, and recently completed production in Sofia, Bulgaria with UFO Films. Alien dragons are transported to Earth inside a meteor crash, forcing two enemy kingdoms to join forces and fight off the alien dragon threat before they scorch the countryside bare.
GARGOYLE -- Calabos is an evil wizard who wants to take over the world with an army of vicious, living gargoyles. Only Marcus, a magician who possesses an enchanted ring, can stop Calabos and his stone minions before they capture everyone in their paths. Produced by Chesler Perlmutter.
GHOST MONKEY -- A freelance photographer and an American investigator join forces to stop a monkey-like creature that goes on a killing spree. This simian mutant prefers human hearts to bananas - and he leads them on a wild chase throughout the streets of India. Filming begins in Spring 2003 with Promark Entertainment.
IDAHO CREATURE INCIDENT -- Stars John Savage and Michelle Goh, and recently completed production in Sofia, Bulgaria with Nu Image. The government experiments with using an alien creature as a weapon. When the trial fails, the creature is locked inside a government facility and must be destroyed before it can escape.
INTERCEPTOR FORCE III -- In the not too distant future, a team of specially trained government soldiers called Interceptors protect Earth from hostile alien encounters. With a new threat to mankind looming, the Interceptors face their greatest challenge yet. Produced by UFO Films.
PHANTOM FORCE -- A spin-off from the "Interceptor Force" movies, "Phantom Force" follows another section of elite government soldiers. Instead of aliens, this special military division has to protect the human race from the supernatural. Filming begins in Bulgaria in May, 2003 with UFO Films.
SNAKEHEAD TERROR -- In a small town in Maryland, a school of freakishly-large Snakehead fish overrun a lake and take to the land. The scaly mutants can survive out of water, and their idea of fish-food has a decidedly human flavor. It's up to the local sheriff to reel in the creatures before they can go on a massive feeding frenzy. Filming begins in Vancouver in Spring 2003 with Cinetel.
These films will join previously announced projects including "Man with the Screaming Brain" and "Earwigs" (both starring Bruce Campbell), "Epoch II," "Graveland" and "Puppetmaster vs. Demonic Toys"; all make their Saturday night premieres in 2003-2004. SCI FI is currently slated to air 22 originals in 2003 and will premiere approximately two per month.