CHICAGO (thefutoncritic.com) -- The latest development news, culled from recent wire reports:
THE 4,400 (USA, New!) - The cable channel has committed to six episodes of a new sci-fi drama from executive producers Francis Ford Coppola, Rene Echevarria ("Dark Angel") and Maira Suro ("Platinum") which centers on the return of 4,400 missing people to Earth. The project opens with an apocalyptic ball of light sailing toward earth however in place of the expected catastrophic event, thousands of returned alien abductees are left with no memory of their otherworldly experiences. Each has been gone anywhere from a few months to several decades, but hasn't aged a day. Scott Peters ("The Outer Limits") created and wrote the pilot to the series which will be produced by Viacom Productions and Renegade 83. In addition to having no memory, some of them have been affected in mysterious ways, both good and bad. The producers however are leaning more toward the human elements of the concept as the "return" is seen as a launching pad for such storylines as a character who has been missing for 15 years comes back to find her husband remarried and her daughter is nearing her own age. Production is set to begin on the series in February for an expected summer 2004 air date.
AMERICAN IDOL (FOX) - Simon Cowell has been named as one of the judges of FOX's upcoming "World Idol" event which airs December 25 at 8:00/7:00c with the results show airing January 1 at 9:00/8:00c. British TV personalities Anthony McPartlin and Declan Donnelly are also on board to host the festivities. In addition, FOX has ordered a new "American Idol" special entitled "Life on the Road." The one-hour special will air Thursday, January 1 at 8:00/7:00c and show "what happens to the idols on the road with their new found fame, fanatical fans and fantastic performances" as they prepare for a concert in St. Paul, Minnesota, according to a network press release. Ruben Studdard, Clay Aiken, Kimberley Locke, Kimberly Caldwell, Rickey Smith, Trenyce, Julia DeMato, Carmen Rasmusen and Charles Grigsby will all be featured in the special.
CARNIVALE (HBO) - Sunday's season finale of the HBO series drew 3.5 million total viewers, slightly below its average for the season. No decision however has been made about the future of the series.
CELEBRITY POKER SHOWDOWN/QUEER EYE FOR THE STRAIGHT GUY (Bravo) - 1.6 million viewers (1.59 household rating) tuned into Tuesday's premiere of "Showdown," tying "Boy Meets Boy" as the network's second most-watched debut in its history. "Showdown" also performed well among adults 18-49 (1.0 million) and adults 25-54 (981,000). Such a strong showing bumped lead-out "Queer Eye for the Straight Guy" to 2.5 million viewers (2.27 household rating) for its latest episode including 1.8 million viewers 18-49 and 1.9 million viewers 25-54. Overall, "Queer Eye" was the top ranked program in the adults 18-49 and number two in adults 25-54 among all ad-supported cable networks in the 10:00/9:00c hour.
DEAD LAWYERS (Sci Fi) - Academy Award-winner F. Murray Abraham ("Amadeus") and Sean Patrick Flanery ("Young Indiana Jones") have signed on for the lead roles in the network's drama pilot, which begins filming in Toronto in early December. "'Lawyers' stars Sean Patrick Flanery as Jimmy Quinn, an arrogant, heartless lawyer to the rich and famous. After being hit by a bus, Quinn awakens in death only to find himself back on earth, working pro bono cases. Before he can reach the afterlife, he must undo the injustices he had committed during his lifetime. F. Murray Abraham co-stars as Thomas Whitelaw, Jimmy�s afterlife mentor. Also dead, Whitelaw is the managing partner of the pro-bono law firm and father figure to all the dead lawyers trying to make amends," according to a network press release. Paris Barclay ("The Shield," "N.Y.P.D. Blue") will direct the pilot from a script by Christopher Murphey. Dean Zanuck, Harrison Zanuck, Lili Fini Zanuck and Richard Zanuck are the executive producers of "Lawyers," a co-production of the Zanuck Company and Sony Pictures Television.
FAKE-A-DATE (GSN, New!) - Evan Marriott ("Joe Millionaire") will host a new dating game show for the network. The series "features one lucky contestant paired up with two singles of the opposite sex. At the end of the dual date, the contestant must choose between the dates. The catch? One of the singles is truly looking for love, while the other one is a pretender out to win a luxury trip with their real significant other," according to the network. Six episodes of the series, which is expected to premiere in March, have been ordered. Paul Buccieri, Jenny Daly and Tim Puntillo ("Friend or Foe") are the executive producers of "Fake-a-Date," which comes from Montana Productions.
HOLLYWOOD DIVISION (FOX, New!) - FOX has given the go-head to Universal Network Television to begin production on a new youth-oriented cop drama pilot from Barry Schindel ("Law & Order," "Robbery Homicide Division") and Rob Port ("10-8," "44 Minutes: The North Hollywood Shootout"). The project revolves around young detectives who infiltrate a Hollywood high school as well as go undercover inside the seedy side of young show business. The duo will co-write the pilot with Schindel executive producing and Port serving as a supervising producer. The news marks FOX's second drama pilot greenlight for fall 2004 consideration so far this season, the first being Rene Echevarria and Jeff Kline's drama "Ricochet."
NATIONAL LAMPOON'S CHRISTMAS VACATION 2: COUSIN EDDIE'S ISLAND ADVENTURE (NBC) - The Peacock has bumped the small screen sequel to the popular holiday film up an hour. "Cousin Eddie" will now air at 8:00/7:00c on Saturday, December 20 instead of 9:00/8:00c.
THE REAGANS (Showtime) - The three-hour telefilm snagged 1.2 million viewers for its Sunday premiere on the pay channel making it the most-watched movie on the network since "The Day Reagan Was Shot" in December 2001. Nevertheless the controversial project earned only a 3.5 rating and 5 share among households that subscribe to the channel (roughly 12 million homes).
STEALING CHRISTMAS (USA) - The Tony Danza-led telefilm was seen by 4.0 million viewers during its November 30 premiere, 1.8 million of which fell into the key adults 18-49 demographic. Such a performance made the broadcast the highest-rated nonsports program on cable among adults 18-49 for the month.
THIS JUST IN (Spike TV, New!) - The male-oriented cable channel has placed an order of six episodes for a new animated comedy from writer Steven Marmel ("The Fairly OddParents"). The project revolves around three best friends - a freelance journalist, a teacher and a househusband - as they riff on the day's current events. Marmel and Spike's executive VP of programming and development Kevin Kay will executive produce the cartoon, which will be done entirely in Flash animation, enabling it to be written, produced and animated in a single week. No start date has been given for the series although it's likely to bow in the first quarter 2004.
VOLCANO HIGH (MTV) - The music channel has scheduled the telefilm for Sunday, December 21 at 9:00/8:00c. The project is actually a South Korean martial-arts action film redubbed to humorous effects with the voices of hip-hop stars such as OutKast's Big Boi and Andre 3000, Snoop Dogg, Mya, Method Man, Lil' Jon, and Kelis as well as Tracy Morgan and Pat Morita.
YOUTH CRIME UNIT (ABC, New!) - Feature writers Tag Mendillo and Ric Roman Waugh ("The Last Apostle") have landed a script commitment at the network for a new drama which revolves around a New York undercover police squadron devoted to catching criminals under the age of 25. Gross Entertainment and Touchstone Television are behind the project which hopes to differentiate itself from the recent uptick in youth cop dramas by not limiting the action to just high school. Gross Entertainment's Matt Gross is also on board as one of the executive producers. His company is also behind two other Alphabet projects: "The Middleman" from Chris McQuarrie and "Cats & Dogs" from John Scott Shepherd.
Sources: Variety, The Hollywood Reporter, Reuters