‘Nine’ fine for Sci Fi

Cabler gives life to Spielberg afterlife mini

Sci Fi Channel is getting back into business with Steven Spielberg, greenlighting the 12-hour afterlife epic “Nine Lives.”

Sci Fi and Spielberg last collaborated on the 2002 supernatural drama “Taken,” which remains the most-watched event in Sci Fi history.

Cabler announced the project, in addition to several new reality series and shows in development, on Thursday during NBC Universal’s portion of the Television Critics Assn. press tour.

In place of NBC U cable topper Jeff Gaspin, who was unable to attend, newly christened NBC U TV Group chief exec Jeff Zucker kicked off the session touting USA’s first-place finish in the fourth quarter, Sci Fi’s highest-rated year ever and Bravo’s dominance of the upscale market.

Zucker also announced just-launched crime network Sleuth has scored carriage on DirecTV and EchoStar’s Dish.

As for “Nine Lives,” scribe Les Bohem (“Taken”) will pen the script and exec produce alongside Spielberg and DreamWorks Television co-toppers Justin Falvey and Darryl Frank.

Mini follows several characters coping with the loss of a loved one who all discover a way to reunite with the dead via near-death experiences. But each trek to the other side brings the characters closer to an “unknown evil” about to be unleashed on mankind.

Sci Fi exec VP of programming Mark Stern said the saga “deals with one of our most compelling universal themes — the afterlife.” Cabler is targeting a 2007 premiere date.

Cabler also unveiled a trio of original reality shows from comicbook maestro Stan Lee, FremantleMedia and Tony Krantz, as well as a scripted project from Sean Hayes.

From Lee and reality producer Bruce Nash comes “Who Wants to Be a Superhero?,” a six-episode competition skein in search of the most original superhero creation. “The Gift,” meanwhile, will test the skills of aspiring psychics in a boot camp-style contest to find one truly “gifted” winner. Tony Krantz and Victoria Holt exec produce.

Then there’s “Medium at Large,” which centers on the day-to-day of real-life psychic Char Margolis. Stuart Krasnow and FremantleMedia North America produce.

On the scripted side, Hayes and Todd Milliner’s Hazy Mills Prods. have set up the dramedy “The Bridge,” about a group of people trapped in purgatory who can only earn their way out through effecting positive changes on the living.

A series version of “The Butterfly Effect” is also in the works (Daily Variety, Jan. 12), as is “Warehouse 13,” from “Battlestar Galactica” exec producer Ronald D. Moore (Daily Variety, Dec. 19).

Net has also inked a deal with BBC Worldwide Americas for the firstrun rights to the new Beeb one-hour series “Doctor Who.”

Elsewhere during the NBC U session, USA/Sci Fi prexy Bonnie Hammer announced orders for a fifth and sixth season — 16 episodes each — of “Monk.” Cabler also has acquired rights from NBC U TV Distribution to strip all six seasons of the detective drama beginning in 2008.

In addition, USA ordered production on an unscripted original movie, “The Great American Christmas.” From the exec producers of “Laguna Beach,” Gary and Julie Auerbach and NBC U TV Studio, the yuletide telepic will showcase the holidays through the eyes of six real-life families. Program will air in December.

Bravo has greenlit the original reality show “Work Out,” a behind-the-scenes look at a high-end gym and its celebrity clientele. Skein, from Mentorn Prods., will premiere this summer.

Pop culture cabler also announced renewals for “Blow Out” and “Kathy Griffin: My Life on the D-List.” Third season of “Blow Out” premieres March 21, followed by frosh skein “The Real Housewives of Orange County”; “D-List” bows some time in the second quarter. “Top Chef” bows March 8.

Bravo topper Lauren Zalaznick also unveiled a suite of broadband channels that will fall under the BravoTV.com umbrella. Among them is the previously announced TrioTV.com. Another is Trio spinoff BrilliantButCancelled.com, dedicated to the best of television programming, including shows that never made it to air.

In the ESPN session, sports cabler announced it has greenlit production on the original movie “Ruffian,” based on the true story of a race horse hailed as the greatest thoroughbred of all time. In an unusual move, telepic will first premiere on Disney sister web ABC, in conjunction with the running of the Belmont Stakes in June 2007.

Within four days of its Alphabet bow, “Ruffian” will also air on ESPN, ESPN’s broadband channel ESPN 360 and ESPN HD, and it will be available via video-on-demand and on DVD.

(John Dempsey and Robert Riddell in New York contributed to this report.)

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