LOS ANGELES (thefutoncritic.com) -- The latest development news, culled from recent wire reports:
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A&E ORIGINAL MOVIES (A&E, New!) - The cable channel is moving forward with three new original movies, the network announced at its upfront presentation to advertisers in New York on Tuesday. The trio join the previously announced "Touch the Top of the World," which premieres Sunday, June 11 at 8:00/7:00c. The Peter Facinelli-led project tells the true story of Erik Weihenmayer, the first blind man to climb Mount Everest. Among the newcomers: "Wedding March," which stars John Stamos and Eric Dane, about a gay event coordinator (Stamos) who inadvertently sets off a nationwide strike by gays and lesbians fighting for the right to get married. Jim Hall is directing from a script by Stephen Mazur with Craig Zadan and Neil Meron of Sony Pictures Television-based Storyline Entertainment executive producing. Production is set to begin next month for an unspecified premiere later this year.
Also in the works are "Wildfires," about a firefighter battling a raging blaze in Yellowstone National Park during Fourth of July weekend, from Cypress Point Productions in association with Jaffe Braunstein Films. Mark Wheaton and John Fasano are behind the project, which John Lafia is directing and Michael R. Goldstein, Gerald W. Abrams and Delia Fine are executive producing. Finally there's "Kings of South Beach," about the true story of Miami nightclub impresario Chris Paciello. Tim Hunter is directing said telefilm from a script by Nicholas Pileggi with Sonny Grosso, Larry Jacobson, Clay Kahler and Fine executive producing via Grosso-Jacobson in association with Sony Pictures Television.
AMPED/THE KILL PIT (A.K.A. UNTITLED DE MONACO/BRAZIL PROJECT) (Spike TV) - Frank Spotnitz and Vince Gilligan's "Amped" and James DeMonaco's "The Kill Pit" have both scored pilot orders from the cable channel. Fox 21-based "Amped" is "set in present day Los Angeles where police confront a mysterious outbreak that has genetically altered some citizens with often violent and disturbing consequences. Everyday citizens and family members must confront each other as the outbreak advances in their community." Spotnitz and Gilligan penned the pilot script and will executive produce. As for "Pit," David Hoberman's Mandeville Films is behind the hour "about a bank heist that goes terribly awry." Hoberman and DeMonaco will executive produce. Scott Brazil, who died Tuesday in Sherman Oaks, had also been attached to executive produce.
THE BIG BANG THEORY (CBS) - Amanda Walsh (Jenna Halbert on "Sons & Daughters") has landed the female lead in the comedy pilot, about two brilliant theoretical physicists (Johnny Galecki, Jim Parsons) who meet a woman who shows them how little they know about real life. She'll take over for Jodi Lynn O'Keefe as Gilda, said woman in the Warner Bros. Television-based half-hour, which comes from creators Chuck Lorre and Bill Prady. No reason for the change was given, other than it was made after the show's table read Thursday. Walsh's involvement is in second position to her duties on the ABC comedy.
THE BLACK DONNELLYS (NBC) - Sean Whitesell ("Cold Case") has been tapped as an executive producer on the upcoming drama series "The Black Donnellys." His involvement comes as the result of a two-year, seven-figure overall deal the writer/producer has inked with NBC Universal Television. In addition to his duties on "Donnellys," he'll develop new series projects for the studio.
CABLE RATINGS ROUND-UP (Various) - HBO's "The Sopranos" and "Big Love" remained the top scripted dramas on cable for the week of April 10-16 with 7.9 million (#1) and 3.9 million (#4) viewers respectively tuning in. Also making the top 15: new episodes of "South Park" (3.49 million, #5 with a 1.7/5 among adults 18-49) and "Mind of Mencia" (2.67 million, #T14 with a 1.3/4 among adults 18-49). Falling outside the top 15 was the third season launch of "My Super Sweet 16" on MTV (2.2 million, down from its previous cycle's 3.6 million viewer launch) and the premiere of "God or the Girl" on A&E (489,000).
GHOST WHISPERER (CBS) - Best-selling author James Van Praagh, a co-executive producer on the series as well as a regular contributor to newsmagazines "Entertainment Tonight" and "The Insider," has signed a one-year development deal with CBS Paramount Network Television. The pact, which begins in June and has an option for a second year, calls for Praagh to develop new projects - both scripted and unscripted - for the studio, not to mention continue with his duties on "Ghost," "Tonight" and "Insider."
HALLMARK ORIGINAL MOVIES (Hallmark, New!) - The cable channel plans to air 12 more original movies by the year's end, bringing its annual programming budget to $98.1 million for 2006. The network also plans to produce at least another 24 originals in 2007 for as much as $103 million. While neither year will match its 2005 output (30 films), Hallmark remains TV's second largest original movie producer, behind only Lifetime. Among the projects in the works for this year and next: five large-scale mini-series from RHI Entertainment's Robert Halmi Sr. and Robert Halmi Jr. - "Marco Polo," about the famed Venetian traveler (to be shot in Mongolia); a remake of "The Thief of Baghdad" entitled "Son of the Dragon" (starring David Carradine and Rufus Sewell), about a resourceful young thief who falls in love with a princess after masquerading as a prince in order to swindle her (to be filmed in China); "Merlin's Apprentice" (starring Sam Neill and Miranda Richardson, airs Saturday, September 2), a sequel to the NBC mini-series; "Final Days of Planet Earth" (starring Daryl Hannah and Campbell Scott, airs Saturday, September 16), about astronauts who accidentally bring home an alien-insect race that must harvest human bodies for survival; and "Hogfather" (starring David Jason and Ian Richardson), an adaptation of Terry Pratchett's book of the same name.
In addition, look for Dick Van Dyke to reprise his role of Dr. Jonathan Maxwell in two new "Murder 101" movies as well as new installments in the "Jane Doe," "McBride," "Mystery Woman" and "Love's" franchises, not to mention a small screen take on Fyodor Dostoevsky's short story "The Christmas Party," also from RHI. The group joins the previously announced entries "Landslide" (Saturday, April 29), "Where There's a Will" (Saturday, May 6), "The Curse of King Tut's Tomb" (Saturday, May 27), "Blackbeard" (Saturday, June 17), "Wild Hearts" (Saturday, July 15) and "Desolation Canyon" (July).
KIDNAPPED (NBC) - David Greenwalt ("Miracles") has been tapped as the showrunner of the upcoming drama, where he'll serve alongside creator Jason Smilovic and fellow executive producers Michael Dinner, Sarah Timberman and Carl Beverly. Sony Pictures Television-based 25C Productions is behind the hour, about a kidnapping expert (Jeremy Sisto) who works outside the legal system to retrieve those who've been snatched. In addition, Greenwalt has also landed a premium blind script commitment from the studio for future development.
MY EX-LIFE (CBS) - Cynthia Watros (Libby on "Lost") has joined the cast of the comedy pilot, about two best friends (Thomas Cavanagh, Watros) who happen to be a divorced couple sharing custody. She'll take over for Gillian Vigman in said role of Kate, a development which undoubtedly raises questions about her character's fate on the ABC drama. Roger Bart and Jonathan Sadowski also star in the 20th Century Fox Television-based half-hour, which Kelsey Grammer is directing from a script by creator Richard Appel.
PEPPER DENNIS (The WB) - Gretchen Berg and Aaron Harberts, the creators of the recently launched dramedy, have inked a three-year, seven-figure overall deal with "Pepper" producer 20th Century Fox Television. The pact will cover the pair's duties on the series should it return next season as part of the CW as well as call for them to develop new projects for the studio.
UNTITLED BANGLES/GO-GO'S PROJECT (The CW, New!) - Kathy Valentine and Charlotte Caffey of the Go-Gos and Susannah Hoffs and Vicki Peterson of the Bangles are developing a new reality series at the soon the launch network that hopes to create America's next top girl band. Anthony Dominici ("America's Next Top Model") is behind the project, which is set up at Stacey Sher and Michael Shamberg's Double Feature banner. As for specifics, the untitled series would feature a nationwide hunt for young women who have both musical and singing abilities with Valentine, Caffey, Hoffs and Peterson serving as on-camera advisors. Details on how eliminations will work and so forth however weren't specificed. The Go-Go's/Bangles quartet will also serve as co-executive producers with Sher, Shamberg and Dominici executive producing.
UNTITLED CHRIS SHERIDAN PROJECT (NBC) - Chris Sheridan, the pilot's creator, has inked a multi-year, seven-figure overall deal with 20th Century Fox Television. The pact covers his duties on the untitled project should it move forward to series. Should NBC pass however, Sheridan will resume his showrunning duties on "Family Guy" alongside creator Seth MacFarlane.
Sources: Variety, The Hollywood Reporter, Reuters