CHICAGO (thefutoncritic.com) -- The latest development news, culled from recent wire reports:
BACK WHEN WE WERE GROWNUPS (CBS) - Anjul Nigam ("The First $20 Million Is Always the Hardest") has joined the all-star cast of the upcoming telefilm which already includes Faye Dunaway, Peter Fonda, Jack Palance, Blythe Danner and Ione Skye. Nigam will play the husband of Skye's character in the Hallmark Hall of Fame presentation, which is based on Anne Tyler's novel of the same name.
CELESTE IN THE CITY (ABC Family, New!) - The cable network has greenlighted a new romantic comedy from Touchstone Television about a recent college grad who moves to New York in hopes of becoming a top-tier journalist. When she winds up a fact-checker, her cousin and his friends decide Celeste needs a makeover. Casting is underway on the project which is being targeted for a March air date.
DIAGNOSIS MURDER (CBS) - The Hallmark channel has landed the off-network rights to the long-running CBS drama, currently being repeated on PAX. Hallmark's license is expected to begin in December 2005, financial details of which were not released.
THE DIVISON (Lifetime) - Mel Jackson ("Deliver Us From Eva," "DAG") has landed a recurring role on the cable series. He'll play a potential love interest for Taraji P. Henson's character. The two meet in an episode where Jackson's character, an athlete, remains loyal to a fellow teammate in the face of possible sexual assault charges.
DOING IT (ABC, New!) - Former ABC topper Stu Bloomberg has pacted with Gabe Sachs and Jeff Judah ("Freaks and Geeks," "Just Shoot Me") for a new drama at the network from Touchstone Television. The project, based on the controversial British novel by Melvin Burgess, is described as a cross between "My So-Called Life" and "American Pie" and tracks the sexually-driven coming-of-age story of three teenagers. Sachs, Judah and Bloomberg will executive produce the project, which has a script commitment, along with Touchstone-based producer Francie Calfo.
FRANKENSTEIN (Hallmark) - The cable channel has reportedly completed production in Austria and Slovakia on a new four-hour mini-series based on Mary Shelley's famed book "Frankenstein." Alec Newman ("Children of Dune"), Luke Goss ("Blade II") and Julie Delpy ("An American Werewolf in Paris") star in the project, which was directed by Kevin Conner and produced by Robert Halmi, Jr. The Hallmark Channel plans to air the project some time in 2004.
I WANT TO MARRY RYAN BANKS (ABC Family, New!) - Jason Priestley ("Beverly Hills 90210"), Bradley Cooper ("Alias") and Emma Caulfield ("Buffy The Vampire Slayer") are set to star in a new romantic comedy for the cable channel. Priestley stars an actor who takes part in a dating reality show in order to revive his ailing career. Cooper plays Ryan's manager and best friend while Caufield plays one of the bachelorettes on the show who both characters end up falling for. Principal photography is set to begin this week in British Columbia for a January 2004 air date. Sheldon Larry ("Boston Public") will direct from a script by Chad Hodge ("This Time Around") with Michael Jaffe, Howard Braunstein and Joel Rice serving as executive producers.
JUDGING AMY (CBS) - Cheech Marin ("Nash Bridges") has signed on for a recurring role on the popular Tuesday drama. He'll play Ignacio Messina, a landscaper working on the Gray family home and a potential love interest for Tyne Daly's character. Marin's first appearance is expected to air in January.
KING SOLOMON'S MINES (Hallmark) - Production has been completed on Robert Halmi, Jr.'s four-hour mini-series, a new adaptation of H. Rider Haggard's novel. Steve Boyum directed the project which stars Patrick Swayze as famed adventurer Allan Quatermain, recently portrayed by Sean Connery in the feature film "The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen." Hallmark plans to air the mini-series some time in 2004.
THE LYON'S DEN (NBC) - Nicolas Coster ("Santa Barbara," "All My Children") has landed a recurring on the struggling Peacock drama. He'll play a legal arbitrator on the series, additional details of which were not available.
A MOTHER'S GIFT (ABC Family, New!) - The cable channel is reportedly close to greenlighting a new telefilm executive produced by pop star Britney Spears, based on her recent semi-autobiographical novel of the same name. Rob Lee and Spears' mom Lynne will also executive produce the project, to be adapted by writer Amy Talkington ("Rodeo Queen") and directed by Bobby Roth ("The Elizabeth Smart Story"). Spears won't star in the project but may make a small cameo in the film, which centers on a Southern girl who aspires to perform professionally and is accepted into a prestigious East Coast arts conservatory, thanks to the sacrifices her mother made to send her. Lions Gate Television is behind the project, which is expected to begin production in Toronto in January for an April air date.
THE O.C. (FOX) - Taylor Handley ("Dawson's Creek") and Amanda Righetti ("No Place Like Home") have both signed on for recurring roles on the FOX soap. Handley, who's signed on for six episodes, will play a well-traveled senior at Harbor High School whose parents own a hotel chain while Righetti, who recently signed a talent deal with the network, will play the wild younger sister of Kelly Rowan's character. It's not clear when both characters will make their first appearances.
PICKING UP AND DROPPING OFF (ABC Family) - The cable channel will premiere its latest romantic comedy starring Scott Wolf and Amanda Detmer on Sunday, December 7 at 8:00/7:00c.
REAL TIME WITH BILL MAHER (HBO) - HBO has formally renewed the talk show for a second season of 23 episodes. Maher himself told viewers the series would return in 2004 during the show's season finale this past summer. The new season, like last season, will be split into two parts, the first of which (10 episodes) premieres on Friday, January 16. HBO plans to shift the series into primetime as new episodes will air Fridays at 8:00/7:00c with a replay in its old 11:30/10:30c time slot. The remaining 13 installments will bow in July just before the Democratic and Republican conventions. "Maher," which is produced by HBO in association with Brad Grey Television, premiered in February to a solid 1.8 million overall viewers.
THE SIMPLE LIFE (FOX) - The network has decided to split the show's planned one-hour premiere into two regular half-hour installments on Tuesday, December 2 and Wednesday, December 3, both at 8:30/7:30c. "Life" will pre-empt "A Minute With Stan Hooper" on December 3. It's not clear however what will lead into the reality series on December 2 in the 8:00/7:00c half-hour.
STILL LIFE (FOX) - Corey Pearson ("La La Wood") has joined the cast of FOX's midseason series, a drama told from the point of view of a family's recently deceased 20-year-old son. He'll play a love interest for Audrey Marie Anderson's character, the older sister of the Morgan family.
UNTITLED BARRY KEMP PROJECT (ABC, New!) - Stu Bloomberg, Francie Calfo and Barry Kemp ("Coach," "A Minute With Stan Hooper") have pacted with writers Mike and Linda Teverbaugh ("The Drew Carey Show") for a new family comedy at Touchstone Television about a working white mom who hires a Latina nanny.
UNTITLED BRUCE MCCULLOCH PROJECT (NBC, New!) - "Kids in the Hall" star Bruce McCulloch has signed a development deal with the Peacock which calls for the actor/director ("Superstar," "Stealing Harvard") to write and executive produce a new comedy for the network about a recent college grad trying to survive cubicle hell in the corporate offices of a coffee store chain. DreamWorks and NBC Studios are producing the project, which has a premium script commitment at the network.
UNTITLED GARY GLASBERG PROJECT (ABC, New!) - Writer/producer producer Gary Glasberg ("Crossing Jordan") has landed a script commitment at the network and Touchstone Television for a new drama about a man who moves his family from New York to a small town outside Houston to be part of NASA's educator astronaut program. Executive producers Stu Bloomberg and Francie Calfo say the drama will focus on the relationship between the father and son in the series, likening it to "The Wonder Years" meets "Everwood."
UNTITLED POLONE/SELTZER PROJECT (NBC, New!) - Writer David Seltzer ("The Omen") and producer Gavin Polone are developing a six-to-eight hour limited series focusing on the final showdown between God and Satan as foretold in the Bible's Book of Revelations. Should it go forward, NBC hopes to debut the series right after its broadcast of the Athens Olympics ends in late August, airing an hour a week as an event designed to create momentum for the fall season. Set just before the start of Armageddon, the series will follow two central characters, a physicist and a nun, who are racing against the clock to see if the end of the world apocalypse can be averted. Seltzer and Polone with executive produce the project along with Pariah Television's Vivian Cannon and Jessika Borsiczky. NBC has made a premium six-figure script commitment to the project, with Seltzer being tapped to write the first two hours and a bible for the series. Much like ABC's upcoming "Kingdom Hospital," the untitled NBC project is designed to be self-contained however there will be the possibility of additional seasons should ratings merit.
UNTITLED ROBERT KING PROJECT (ABC) - Stu Bloomberg is also executive producing the drama along with Francie Calfo. The project, a suburban cop show, comes from writers Robert and Michelle King.
UNTITLED STU BEATTIE PROJECT (ABC, New!) - Feature writer Stu Beattie ("Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl") is developing a drama project at Touchstone Television about a larger-than-life big city mayor who some people feel could be corrupt. Executive producers Stu Bloomberg and Francie Calfo liken the series to "The West Wing" meets "The Sopranos."
UNTILTED WALLACE/WOLFE PROJECT (ABC, New!) - Touchstone Television regulars Nina Wass and Gene Stein are developing a new blue-collar comedy at ABC from writers Barbara Wallace and Tom Wolfe. Stu Bloomberg and Francie Calfo are also on board to executive produce the project, which tracks a larger-than-life thirtysomething professional bowler and his relationships with his father, brother, sister and two best friends.
THE WEST WING (NBC) - James Cromwell ("ER," "Six Feet Under") is set to guest star in the show's 100th episode. He'll play former President D. Wire Newman, an irascible idealist and the last Democrat to occupy the Oval Office before Jed Bartlet (Martin Sheen).
WONDERFALLS (FOX) - Writer/producers Gretchen Berg and Aaron Harberts have inked a two-year, seven-figure overall deal with 20th Century Fox Television. The pact calls for the duo to continue their work as consulting producers on FOX's midseason dramedy "Wonderfalls" while developing new projects for the studio.
Sources: Variety, The Hollywood Reporter, Reuters