LOS ANGELES (thefutoncritic.com) -- The latest development news, culled from recent wire reports:
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BEN (NBC, New!) - Actor/writer Steve Coogan ("I'm Alan Partridge") and his producing partner Henry Normal have inked a two-year development deal with NBC Universal Television. The pact will give the studio access to their company Baby Cow's existing library of comedy series - which includes "The Mighty Boosh," "Hurrah for Cancer" and "Saxondale" - as well as first crack on any future development during the period. Already in the works is a half-hour comedy from writer Alex Spiro entitled "Ben," about the richest man in the world. Robb and Mark Cullen ("Heist") are already on board to direct the pilot, which is set up at NBC.
BIANCA (Lifetime) - Rachel Ward, Shirley Jones, Simon Rex, Kieran Hutchinson, Stephen Martines, Vanessa Lengies, Samantha Shelton and Matt Funke have all joined the cast of the telenovela, which stars Virginia Williams as a woman who has to begin life anew after being wrongly accused for murder. Production is set to begin next month on the Gold Coast of Australia on the FremantleMedia North America-based project, which is set to air on Saturday nights at 10:00/9:00c starting October 14.
CABLE RATINGS ROUND-UP (Week of July 3-9) - The premiere of USA's "Psych" (6.06 million viewers; 1.9/6 in adults 18-49) emerged as cable's top draw last week, beating out TNT's "The Closer" (5.3 million, #2). The return of "Monk" (5.09 million, #4; 1.4/5 in adults 18-49) also fared well, but was off a noticeable 20.47% from its bow last summer (6.4 million on 7/8/05). Rounding out the top 15: USA's Sunday night entries "The 4,400" (3.3 million, #11) and "The Dead Zone" (3.0 million, #15) as well the premiere of "The 40-Year-Old Virgin" (3.1 million, #14) on HBO. Outside the top 15, the return of Comedy Central's "Chappelle's Show" drew 2.57 million viewers (1.4/4 in adults 18-49) while fellow Sunday series "Mind of Mencia" posted 2.37 million (1.3/4 in adults 18-49) and "Reno 911" snagged 1.8 million. Over on Spike TV, newcomers "The Dudesons" (971,000 viewers) and "Raising the Roofs" (688,000) opened to lackluster numbers while week two of "Blade: The Series" (1.3 million) lost nearly half its premiere's audience. Also taking a dip in week two: ABC Family's "Kyle XY" which tumbled from 2.6 million to 1.5 million however its rebroadcast on ABC help up with 4.9 million viewers tuning in vs. 5.2 million the week prior. Finally, MTV's July 7 installment of "The Hills" was cable's top telecast for the week among adults 18-34 (2.3/7) and was the #5 show on all of television last week among women 18-34 (3.6/11).
GREY'S ANATOMY (ABC) - Cable channels Oxygen and TNT are said to be closing to landing the shared off-network rights to the smash hit ABC drama from Buena Vista Television. The pact, likely valued north of $1 million per episode, would give Oxygen the primetime rights (after 6 p.m. eastern) and TNT the daytime rights (before 6 p.m. eastern). Because of the preferred window, Oxygen is expected to pay the bulk of the license fee - around $700,000 - which would also include a second window to repurpose the show's current airing. Once the deal is finalized, Oxygen is expected to begin airing once-a-week repeats as early as January with the five-night-a-week component kicking in during 2009. It's not clear if Buena Vista also plans to sell weekend repeats to local stations, or if the off-network run will be exclusive to said cable channels.
HOUSE (FOX) - Star Hugh Laurie has reportedly received a pay bump into the $275,000-$300,000 per episode range, up from his current mid-five figure salary. The actor had been working to renegotiate his contract with producer NBC Universal Television for the past two months. In addition to the new salary (partially funded by FOX itself), Laurie will also receive a small stake in the backend of "House" as well as extend his current contract (believed to be six years) for an additional year.
JUDGE MARIA LOPEZ (Syndication) - Sony Pictures Television has cleared the freshman series in all 210 markets or 100% of the country. The news marks the distributor's second full clearance this season, the first being the off-cable run of "The Shield." "Lopez" bows on Monday, September 11 with production set to begin on August 1 in New York.
LIFETIME ORIGINAL MOVIES (Lifetime) - The cable channel plans to produce some 60 original movies this year, providing details on several upcoming projects during its session at the TCA Summer Press Tour. Among them: "Why I Wore Lipstick to My Mastectomy," based on the memoir of the same name by breast cancer survivor and Lifetime public-affairs executive Geralyn Lucas with Sarah Chalke ("Scrubs") in the title role and "The House Next Door," a horror flick starring Lara Flynn Boyle.
THE LISA WILLIAMS PROJECT (Lifetime, New!) - British clairvoyant Lisa Williams is set to be the focus of a new reality series at the cable channel. Said project, which comes from Merv Griffin Entertainment, will follow the psychic as she talks with people around the country, relays messages from the dead, resolves misunderstandings and helps out with everyday problems. The network has given a six-episode commitment to the hour, which is expected to be paired with the off-network run of NBC's "Medium" on Sunday nights this fall.
NIP/TUCK (FX) - Sales materials issued by the network indicate it has bumped up the show's fourth season premiere to Tuesday, September 5 at 10:00/9:00c. The new season will once again run 15 episodes with the finale set for Tuesday, December 12.
OUT OF PRACTICE (CBS) - Veteran showrunners Steve Levitan and Christopher Lloyd have banded together to sign a three-year, mid-seven-figure overall deal with 20th Century Fox Television. The uniquely structured pact calls for the pair to supervise other writers' development as well as develop their own projects. The end goal however is to serve as guides to younger writers as they learn how to serve as showrunners of their respective projects.
SIX DEGREES (ABC) - Jace Alexander ("Rescue Me") has signed on as a producer and director of the upcoming ABC drama, about a group of six strangers in New York - Jay Hernandez, Bridget Moynahan, Hope Davis, Campbell Scott, Dorian Missick and Erika Christensen - who are drawn into a mysterious web of coincidence that gradually brings them closer together. Stu Zicherman and Raven Metzner created the Touchstone Television-based series, which is also executive produced by J.J. Abrams, Bryan Burk and Carol Flint.
STARVEILLANCE (E!, New!) - "Celebrity Deathmatch" creator Eric Fogel has booked a series commitment from the cable channel for a new series in which will take a comedic look at pop culture events via claymation re-enactments. The half-hour project, set to launch in January, will feature such events as Tom Cruise and Katie Holmes having a chance meeting with Brooke Shields at the hospital and Ashton Kutcher and Demi Moore's first date. The network also plans to make segments of the show available on its broadband channel The Vine @ E! Online and other platforms.
UGLY BETTY (A.K.A. BETTY THE UGLY) (ABC) - ABC has quietly retitled its freshman series "Betty the Ugly" to simply "Ugly Betty." The news marks the second new moniker issued by the network, the first being "Let's Rob..." to "Knights of Prosperity."
WHAT ABOUT BRIAN (ABC) - Josh Reims, most-recently a co-executive producer on the WB's "Everwood," has been tapped as the dramedy's new showrunner. The move is the result of a two-year, seven-figure overall deal the writer/producer recently signed with Touchstone Television. Remis will take over said duties from Jeff Judah and Gabe Sachs where he'll serve alongside fellow executive producers J.J. Abrams, Bryan Burk and creator Dana Stevens.
THE WINNER (FOX) - Producers are said to be recasting the character of Irene Abbott, the mother of lead Rob Corddry's character. Julie Hagerty played the role in the original pilot. No reason however was given for the change.
Sources: Variety, The Hollywood Reporter, Reuters