LOS ANGELES (thefutoncritic.com) -- The latest development news, culled from recent wire reports:
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AMERICAN IDOL (FOX) - Executive producer Nigel Lythgoe has announced he's departing the top-rated series to concentrate on fellow top draw "So You Think You Can Dance" as well as a new business venture with fellow executive producer Simon Fuller. Fuller's 19 Entertainment produces both shows with Lythgoe serving as president of said banner. It's not clear if Lythgoe will retain an executive producer credit on "Idol," as is sometimes custom for those executives who get a show off the ground. It's believed that Ken Warwick, also an executive producer on "Idol," will assume the day-to-day duties previously held by Lythgoe.
DROP DEAD DIVA (Lifetime) - Margaret Cho ("'Til Death") and Jackson Hurst ("Living Proof") have both been cast on the drama pilot, about Deb, a dead aspiring actress/model who is reincarnated in the body of Jane (Brooke Elliott), a chubby, brilliant attorney. Cho will play Teri, who's detailed in the casting notice as follows: "30s-40s, African-American or Latina and attractive. She is Jane's efficient, caring assistant. Patient with Jane's "amnesia," she tells Jane (who's just come back to work after a brush with death), "I don't know what's going on, but I'm here for you." Teri's got that "can-do-cheerleader-routine" down perfectly but does not suffer fools." Hurst then is set as Grayson Kent: "Late 20s-Mid 30s, all ethnicities and "so handsome it hurts". He is an attorney, a good-natured, caring, genuinely nice guy, still in touch with his inner dork. He is engaged to beautiful but vapid Deb who is killed in an accident with a tangerine truck. Soon after, he lands a plum job with firm where Jane works, unaware, of course, that his lovely but dead girlfriend has taken up residence in Jane's body." Josh Berman is behind the Sony Pictures Television-based hour, which James Hayman is directing.
THE EMANCIPATION OF ERNESTO (FOX) - Sarah Wright ("7th Heaven") and Angela Sarafyan ("In Plain Sight") have both scored roles on the hourlong pilot, which stars Wilmer Valderrama as a guileless innocent embarking on a quest to find his father amid a Los Angeles landscape polluted with excess. Wright is attached to play Madizon Cutler, whom the casting notice describes as: "Early/Mid 20s, Caucasian, strikingly beautiful but with eyes of steel. She's the daughter of Brentwood millionaire Phil Cutler. She could've gone the way of all the other rich, young heiresses we read about in tabloids, but there is a spark in Madizon. Madizon met Ernesto when they were both 8 years old, and she still has fond memories of the friend with whom she spent a long happy day in Disneyland. Accidentally reunited with Ernesto, she is attracted to him, but has no idea that he is romantically intent on wooing and winning her. Madizon feels there is something missing from her life, will Ernesto fill the empty space in her heart?" Sarafyan then has been tapped as Sydney: "20s, all ethnicities. Madizon's roommate, Sydney is a Khloe Kardashian/Paris Hilton type. She's the typical rich, heiress type...without Madizon's sweet spark. She meets Ernesto while shopping at a Melrose Avenue boutique. After hurting her ankle on a slippery waxed floor, she's given a quick adjustment by Ernesto -- and is so grateful that she buys the "vintage" clothes that he is peddling." Emily Kapnek created the project, which is set up at 20th Century Fox Television.
LIE TO ME (FOX) - Kelli Williams ("The Practice") and Brendan Hines ("The Middleman") are the final additions to the drama pilot, about Cal Lightman (Tim Roth), a cutting-edge researcher in the field of "deception detection." Williams will play Dr. Gillian Foster, the female lead, who is detailed as follows in the casting notice: "35-45, any ethnicities. She's an attractive, confident, youthfully feminine psychologist, full of natural sparkle and joie de vivre. Lightman's colleague at his consulting firm, she is as perceptive as she is idealistic and loyal - attributes that have endeared her to Lightman, who relies on her for her truthfulness and insight. Happily married to a man who may be secretly deceiving her, Foster has no idea that Lightman hides a secret crush on her. For now, she's just happy to assist him on their challenging, fascinating cases." Hines then is set as Will Loker: "Late 20's, any ethnicities. Another of Lightman's colleagues, Will is a bright, eccentric but winning guy, who is constitutionally incapable of telling a lie. Will's "radical honesty" makes him a bit socially awkward at times, but he's a refreshing comrade for the deception-detecting Lightman, who finds Will's uncensored candor a rare virtue in a weary world." Monica Raymund also stars in the 20th Century Fox Television/Imagine Television-based hour, which Robert Schwentke is directing from a script by Sam Baum.
LITTLE MISS PERFECT (WE, New!) - NorthSouth Productions ("Wrecked: Life in the Crash Lane") has scored a six-episode commitment from the cable channel for a new reality series which follows Florida families entering their 5- to 11-year-old daughters in a beauty competition. The hourlong project is being targeted for the first quarter of 2009 with the company's Charlie DeBevoise executive producing.
THE PHILANTHROPIST (NBC) - The Peacock and Universal Media Studios are reportedly looking for an international partner for the upcoming drama, about a renegade billionaire who uses his wealth, connections and power to help people in need no matter the risks or costs. Said co-producer would shoulder half the production costs - much like fellow NBC newcomers "Crusoe" (Power Entertainment), "Merlin" (BBC) and "The Listener" (CTV) - as well as open up the possibility of shooting the series on location in different countries. Talks are still underway with James Purefoy for the lead role with David Eick executive producing and Peter Horton directing the pilot.
PUSHING DAISIES (ABC) - Entertainment Weekly reports Stephen Root ("NewsRadio") has signed on for a four-episode arc on the show's upcoming second season. He'll play a character who "has a shared history with both Ned's dad and Chuck's dad," creator Bryan Fuller told the publication. "He stirs up a lot of hullabaloo for everyone, particularly Aunts Lily and Vivian." Look for the new season on October 1.
UNTITLED VICTOR FRESCO PROJECT (ABC) - Writer/producer Victor Fresco ("My Name Is Earl") has inked a two-year, seven-figure overall deal with ABC Studios. Fresco currently has an untitled single-camera pilot presentation for 20th Century Fox Television at network sibling ABC, about a moral guy (Jay Harrington) trying to do right in an amoral world. The pact then would call for him to develop new projects for the studio.
Sources: Variety, The Hollywood Reporter, Reuters