CHICAGO (thefutoncritic.com) -- The latest development news, culled from recent wire reports:
Looking to keep track of all the various pilots and other projects in development? Be sure to check out our detailed production chart listings by clicking here.
ACCORDING TO JIM (ABC) - Tribune-owned stations in New York (WPIX), Los Angeles (KTLA), Chicago (WGN), Philadelphia (WPHL), Boston (WLVI), Dallas (KDAF), Atlanta (WATL) and Houston (KHWB) have cleared the off-network run of the veteran ABC comedy, which will launch in syndication come the fall of 2006. The pacts give 5.5 minutes of ad time to the stations and 1.5 to the show's Disney-owned distributor, Buena Vista Television.
ASHLEE (MTV) - The cable channel has given its Ashlee Simpson reality project a six-episode order. The series, which will premiere this summer, will track the 19-year-old actress ("7th Heaven") and sister to "Newlyweds'" Jessica Simpson as she records her first album, on Geffen Records, auditions a band and breaks up with her boyfriend.
BOSTON PUBLIC (FOX) - A source close to the series has confirmed the cast has been released from their contracts and the show's sets have been torn down. Nevertheless, FOX reps still insist the series hasn't been canceled. Series star Chi McBride has already joined the cast of ABC's drama pilot "Countdown," about a S.W.A.T. team and how it handles the final 43 minutes of a crisis.
CENTER OF THE UNIVERSE (CBS) - Oscar winner Olympia Dukakis ("Moonstruck") has joined the cast of the John Goodman-led comedy pilot, about a family man who tries to keep the peace with his extended Chicago family. She joins the previously cast Jean Smart, Diedrich Bader, Melinda McGraw and Spencer Breslin in the project, which comes from Warner Bros. Television, CBS Productions and the Tannenbaum Co.
DYNASTY: BEHIND THE SCENES (ABC) - The Alphabet has confirmed production has begun on its two-hour dramatization of the hit '80s primetime soap opera. Starring in the movie are Pamela Reed ("Proof of Life," "Kindergarten Cop") as Esther Shapiro, Ritchie Singer as Richard Shapiro, Bart John as John Forsythe, Alice Krige ("The Mystery of Natalie Wood") as Joan Collins and Melora Hardin ("Hot Chick") as Linda Evans, according to an ABC press release. Matthew Miller ("The Perfect You") is directing from his own script while Stanley M. Brooks and Greg Gugliotta ("Behind the Camera: The Unofficial Story of Three's Company") are executive producing. The project is expected to bow during the May sweeps period.
EMPIRE (ABC) - Jonathan Frain is set as Brutus in the Alphabet's limited series that chronicles the power struggle in Rome following the murder of Julius Caesar in 44 B.C. Jonathan Cake, Santiago Cabrera and Vince Regan also star in the Touchstone Television/Storyline Entertainment project, which has an eight-episode order.
EVERYBODY LOVES RAYMOND (CBS) - Ray Romano told reporters at a comedy benefit for the non-profit Children Affected by AIDS Foundation on Saturday he's "almost sure" the CBS series will return for a ninth season however it's unclear how many episodes will be produced. "We're going to try to make it happen," Reuters reported Romano as saying. "We're trying to do something, but how many episodes we don't know yet."
HATE (Showtime, New!) - Paris Barclay ("N.Y.P.D. Blue") and James DeMonaco ("The Negotiator") are developing a new drama at the pay channel about a New York Police Department hate-crime unit. The project tracks a female inspector who is the highest-ranking woman in the N.Y.P.D. as she leads the unit while dealing with pressures from the mayor's office and the detectives under her supervision. David Janollari will executive produce out of Greenblatt Janollari Studio, the former home of current Showtime entertainment president Robert Greenblatt, who has no financial stake in the series.
I'M STILL ALIVE (UPN, New!) - The netlet has given a five-episode order to A. Smith & Co. ("Forever Eden," "Paradise Hotel") for a new reality series which uses actual footage and CGI-animated re-creations to tell the true stories of people who've survived life-threatening situations. Production is set to begin shortly on the one-hour series, which could be ready in time for a spring bow. Executive producers Arthur Smith and Kent Weed promise the show won't be your typical clip-fest: "These are going to be six or seven stories, all well-told with solid journalism," Smith told Daily Variety. "A lot of the people we interview have never talked [to the media] before," Weed added.
THE MUPPETS: THE WIZARD OF OZ (ABC, New!) - Jim Henson Productions and Fox TV Studios are expected to announce shortly the Alphabet has committed to a new TV movie adaptation of "The Wizard of Oz" starring the Muppets. Debra Frank and Steven Hayes are writing a script for the project, which will be based on the original L. Frank Baum novel and not the classic 1939 MGM musical. Disney, ABC's owner, purchased the Muppets brand last month.
NUMBERS (CBS) - Alimi Ballard ("Dark Angel") is the latest to join the cast of the drama pilot, which revolves around two brothers, one in the F.B.I. (Gabriel Macht) and the other an M.I.T. math whiz (David Krumholtz), who team up to fight crime. Ballard will play David, a young F.B.I. agent, in the Paramount Network Television project, which comes from executive producers Cheryl Heuton, Nick Falacci, Ridley Scott and Tony Scott.
PRIMETIME LIVE (ABC) - David Doss has quit his job as executive producer of the newsmagazine, a post he held for over three years, after he and ABC were unable to agree on the terms of a new contract. "Primetime Thursday" senior broadcast producer Robert Lange has taken over for Doss, who had been at the "Primetime" newsmagazine franchise since 1995, until a permanent appointment is made. As for Doss, he will remain at the news division in a yet-to-be-determined position.
THE ROBINSON BROTHERS (FOX) - Eddie McClintock ("A.U.S.A.") is set as one of the three leads in the 20th Century Fox Television/Original Television pilot. He joins the previously cast Jay Baruchel, David Annable and Reagan Dale Neis in the project, about a trio of adult brothers (Baruchel, Annable and McClintock) who hang out in a Los Angeles apartment building that feels like a college dorm.
STRANGERS WITH CANDY (Comedy Central) - Husband-and-wife Matthew Broderick and Sarah Jessica Parker ("Sex and the City") have agreed to star in a feature film based on the cult classic Comedy Central series, which is scheduled to begin filming in New York City in June. The duo's attachment to the project, a satire of moralistic afterschool specials, is understood to be the result of their friendship with Amy Sedaris, the co-creator and star of the cult series, who also appeared on "Sex" as the editor of Bradshaw's character. Sedaris, along with co-creators Paul Dinello and Stephen Colbert, will reprise their roles in the feature.
TASTE (CBS) - Richard Ruccolo ("Two Guys and a Girl") has been tapped to star opposite Jane Krakowski in the comedy pilot, about a culinary school grad (Krakowski) who lands her first job at a high-profile New York restaurant. Andy Cadiff ("My Wife and Kids") has also signed on to direct the Regency Television/CBS Productions project, from a script by creator Kirk Rudell.
TOUCHING EVIL (USA) - 3.4 million viewers tuned into the two-hour opener to USA's latest original series, including a 1.5 rating/4 share in adults 25-54 and a 1.1/3 in adults 18-49. Those scores represent a more-than-100% increase over the previous year's time period average. "Evil" also built on lead-in "Law & Order: S.V.U." (1.1/3 in 25-54, 0.9/3 in 18-49, 3.1 million overall) in all categories. Nevertheless, "Evil's" audience was well behind the premieres of such recent originals as "The Dead Zone" (6.4 million on 6/16/02), "Peacemakers" (5.2 million on 7/30/03) and "Monk" (4.8 million on 7/12/02) however said debuts came during the broadcast networks' off-season. Overall, "Evil" was the most-watched program in adults 25-54 and adults 18-49 among all cable networks in its second hour, but fell short of TNT's broadcast premiere of "Men in Black" for its opening hour. In terms of overall audience, the two-hour premiere was the second most-watched program on cable on Friday, behind only the network premiere of "Toy Story 2" on the Disney Channel (4.1 million).
UNTITLED '80S PROJECT (NBC, New!) - Madonna and Guy Oseary's Maverick Films are developing a new four-hour mini-series about a group of twentysomethings as they live through the decade, starting with John Lennon's assassination and ending with the fall of the Berlin Wall. Oseary, Maverick's Michael Rosenberg and Mark Morgan will executive produce the project in association with NBC Studios. It's not clear if Madonna will take a producer credit as scheduling conflicts - she is expected to tour within the next year - may prevent her from any hands on involvement. Oseary helped produce the '80s-heavy soundtrack to "The Wedding Singer" as well as the soundtrack to the recent release "50 First Dates," which featured island-inspired covers of a number of '80s classics.
UNTITLED AISHA TYLER PROJECT (CBS) - Adam Goldberg ("The Street") has joined the cast of the Aisha Tyler-led comedy project, about a sophisticated single New Yorker (Tyler) who makes the move from a small, edgy fashion house to a large corporation. Bill Martin and Mike Schiff
("Grounded for Life") are behind the project, which is set up at Warner Bros. Television and Lisa Kudrow and Dan Bucatinsky's Is or Isn't Entertainment.
UNTITLED JOHN STAMOS PROJECT (ABC) - Rick Hoffman ("The Bernie Mac Show") is set as Patrick, the ex-boyfriend of Madchen Amick's character in the comedy, which stars Stamos and Amick as a couple whose first date takes place over the entire season. Tim Doyle ("Andy Richter Controls the Universe") has also come aboard to executive produce the 20th Century Fox Television/Brad Grey Television project, which was created by Austin Winsberg.
THE VINYL CAFE (CBS, New!) - The Eye has given a rare pilot presentation order for a new animated series based on Canadian author and radio host Stuart McLean's weekly CBC Radio program of the same name. During "The Vinyl Cafe," McLean shares anecdotes about record store owner Dave, his wife Morley and children Stephanie and Sam. "Everybody Loves Raymond" executive producers Phil Rosenthal and Steve Skrovan are behind the Paramount Network Television project, which will be written by Saul Rubinek and Elinor Reid (Showtime's "Jerry and Tom"). Claudia Katz, Rich Moore and Greg Vanzo of Rough Draft ("Futurama") will put together the expected 11-minute presentation which could be ready in time for a midseason 2005 series order.
WEEKENDS (NBC) - Benjamin King ("Saving Jessica Lynch") is the first to join the cast of the comedy pilot, about the lives of Gen-X parents and their kid in Orange County. King will play Preston, a conservative guy with an affinity for SUVs in the NBC Studios/Spyglass Entertainment project, which comes from Craig Doyle ("The Andy Dick Show").
Sources: Variety, The Hollywood Reporter, Reuters