CHICAGO (thefutoncritic.com) -- The latest development news, culled from recent wire reports:
EMPIRE (A.K.A. TYRANNUS) (ABC) - The Alphabet is set to go forward with the Roman epic as the network has greenlighted production on the series. Eight-hours are set to begin shooting in mid-February or March for an expected fall 2004 air date. ABC had been in talks with Touchstone Television and Storyline Entertainment since August (read the story) to greenlight the $30 million project. A mix of history and fiction, "Empire" tracks the story of Julius Caesar's 17-year-old nephew Octavius, who battles general Marc Antony for control of Rome after Caesar is assassinated. Octavius finds an ally in Tyrannus, the gladiator assigned to protect him, and eventually becomes the famed emperor Augustus. Thomas Wheeler created the series and will executive produce along with Chip Johannessen ("Millennuium") and Storyline's Craig Zadan and Neil Meron
("The Music Man"). ABC is open to ordering additional episodes and seasons of the project however isn't likely to produce more than 13 installments per season. It's not clear what ABC's rollout plan will be for the series, which could run as eight one-hour episodes or a multi-night mini-series.
GOING DOWN: THE RISE AND FALL OF HEIDI FLEISS (USA) - Oscar winner Brenda Fricker ("My Left Foot"), Corbin Bernsen ("L.A. Law"), Saul Rubinek ("The Contender"), Robert Davi ("Showgirls") and Emmanuelle Vaugier ("Smallville") have all joined the cast of the cable channel's biopic of the famed Hollywood madam (played by Jamie-Lynn DiScala). Fricker will play Madam Alex, Fleiss' mentor and eventual rival while Rubinek will play Fleiss' father with Bernsen as a Hollywood producer, Davi as Fleiss' boyfriend and Vaugier as of one of Fleiss' call girls. Charles McDougall (the U.K.'s "Queer as Folk") will direct the project from a script by Norman Snider ("Rated X"). Stanley M. Brooks ("A Season on the Brink," "Living with the Dead") is executive producing the telefilm, which is currently in production for a first quarter 2004 air date.
GOOD MORNING, MIAMI/SCRUBS (NBC) - According to NBC's published schedule for the week, "Miami" will air Thursdays at 8:30/7:30c instead of 9:30/8:30c as previously announced (read the story) beginning next week. "Scrubs" will then stay put at 9:30/8:30c for the time being.
THE GOODBYE GIRL (TNT) - The cable channel has announced it will air its remake of the Neil Simon classic as part of three-play "world premiere weekend" on Friday, January 16, Saturday, January 17 and Sunday, January 18, all at 8:00/7:00c. Patricia Heaton ("Everybody Loves Raymond") and Jeff Daniels ("The Hours") topline the remake which centers on a dumped-on divorcee (Heaton) and an aspiring actor (Daniels) who become unwilling roommates in a New York City apartment. Hallie Kate Eisenberg ("The Insider") and Alan Cumming ("X2") also star.
THE GRID (TNT) - TNT has given the greenlight to the six-hour project, a co-production with the BBC in association with Fox TV Studios and Carnival Films. Dylan McDermott ("The Practice") and Julianna Margulies ("ER") are attached to star in the project which "explores both sides of the escalating war on terror," according to a network press release. "Margulies will play maverick NSA counter-terrorism operative Maya Jackson, and McDermott will play FBI agent Mike Canary, two of three young American and two British counter-terrorism agents who collaborate to disrupt a ferocious terrorist cell bent on destroying the world�s economic foundations." Mikael Salomon ("Band of Brothers," "Salem�s Lot") is also on board to direct the limited series, which is written by Ken Friedman and Patrick Sheane Duncan & Joshua Brand, from a story by Tracey Alexander and Friedman. Alexander ("Sins of the Father") will executive produce, along with Brian Eastman ("Traffik") of Carnival Films. Production is set to begin in January in Toronto, London and Morocco for a summer 2004 air date. TNT plans to air the project as weekly one-hour series rather than as a multi-night mini-series as originally reported in October (read the story). Much like NBC's "Kingpin," the network is treating the project as a limited series with the option for future installments.
THE ICE BOWL (ESPN) - The sports channel has postponed its latest original telefilm, which was previously scheduled to air on December 13, for the time being.
THE OSBOURNES (MTV) - MTV plans to air a one-hour Christmas special featuring the Osbourne clan. The special, entitled "The Osbourne Family Christmas Special," is slated to air Thursday, December 11 at 10:00/9:00c. The program was taped at the family home in Beverly Hills, California and features appearances by Jessica Simpson, newlyweds Dave Navarro and Carmen Electra, "Loveline" host Adam Carolla, OutKast's Big Boi, 'N Sync's JC Chasez, Eddie Griffin, Tracy Morgan, Anthony Anderson and Eva Mendes.
ROME (HBO) - Michael Apted ("The World Is Not Enough") has been tapped to direct the first three episodes of the upcoming HBO series. Shooting is set to begin next March in Bulgaria on the project, which follows the tale of two Roman soldiers and their families as they witness the rise of Julius Caesar's empire. Also on board are production designer Joseph Bennett, costume designer April Ferry and casting executive Nina Gold. Casting is expected to being shortly on the series, which is slated to air in 2005 on the channel.
THE SIMPLE LIFE (FOX) - FOX is reportedly considering a second season of reality series, which saw 13.3 million viewers tune into its latest episode on Wednesday. "There is some discussion of that right now," FOX reality-programming guru Mike Darnell told the The New York Daily News in a story published today (read the story). "It took off much more quickly than we imagined," he added. "The ratings on Wednesday mean there was great word of mouth." While it's still very early, a new season would likely feature stars Paris Hilton and Nicole Richie in a different, albeit equally "fish out of water" scenario. FOX has produced just seven episodes of the series, which is set to finish its first season run on January 13.
SOUL FOOD (Showtime) - The pay channel's fifth and final season of the veteran drama is expected to premiere on Wednesday, February 25 at 10:00/9:00c.
THE SUMMER OF '77 (UPN, New!) - Former Edmonds Entertainment executive Sheila Ducksworth has sold a new drama script to the netlet. Writer/director Seth Zvi Rosenfeld ("King of the Jungle") created the series, which revolves around the lives of two teens who explore relationships and music during the emergence of hip-hop. Ducksworth recently left the company to join Susanne Daniels' First Move Television as senior VP of development.
TRUMP VS. WYNN (HBO, New!) - The pay channel is reportedly close to landing Danny DeVito to direct a new telefilm that chronicles a competition between icons Donald Trump and Steve Wynn to build a casino in Atlantic City, N.J. Rick Cleveland ("Six Feet Under") wrote the script to the project, which is described along the lines of the popular HBO telefilm "Barbarians at the Gate." Should he come on board, DeVito will be an executive producer on the project, joining Ron Shelton, Lou Pitt, Jeffrey Auerbach and Jeffrey Lurie. DeVito is also expected to have a small acting role.
Sources: Variety, The Hollywood Reporter, Reuters