Disney jumpstarts 'High School' sequel

Cable nets made a push for their biggest shows at the TV Critics Assn. press tour this weekend: Showtime announced a pilot order for a Steven Spielberg skein, Court TV relaunched itself at a raucous session with Star Jones, and Disney Channel jumpstarted the sequel to its lucrative “High School Musical.”

NBC Universal’s cable division, meanwhile, announced pickups and development slates for USA, Sci Fi Channel and Bravo.

Showtime revealed that it is a step closer to airing a series from Spielberg (Daily Variety, March 15). Pay net said at TCA Saturday that it has greenlit the pilot for “The United States of Tara,” a half-hour comedy about a woman with multiple-personality disorder that is based on a Spielberg idea and produced by his DreamWorks Television.

Producers are still seeking an actor to play the main character. Showtime entertainment prexy Robert Greenblatt said several theatrical-level stars are under consideration. Greenblatt said the net expects to greenlight at least one new series from the coming slate.

Net’s presentation also featured David Duchovny, who was promoting his upcoming comedy “Californication” on a panel, saying that “The X-Files” creatives Chris Carter and Frank Spotnitz have completed a screenplay for a long-gestating sequel to the 1998 Fox feature based on the series. Carter will direct and Duchovny and Gillian Anderson will star, thesp said.

At NBC U, USA announced that it is developing a potential series with George Wing (“50 First Dates”) titled “Halo,” as well as offbeat procedural “The Expert” and NYPD drama “Citizen’s Arrest.” And Alicia Witt will join the cast on net’s upcoming “Law & Order: Criminal Intent.”

At Sci Fi, animated skein “The Awesomes,” about over-the-hill superheroes, joins a mini that’s described as “Robinson Crusoe in space,” as well as a sitcom about people who handle God’s affairs. Nonscripted projects include contest series “Run for Money” and “UFO Hunters.” Net also said that 10 new episodes of cult hit “Farscape” would air on SciFi.com and that the net would air an eight-week series of shorts ahead of the October bow of “Battlestar Galactica: Razor.” And net has acquired rights to broadcast Lionsgate’s cult after dark horror series; Sci-Fi and studio will co-promote.

At Bravo, net has picked up new seasons of “Real Housewives of Orange County” and “Workout” and has greenlit “Make Me a Supermodel,” a contest series in which viewers will vote on eliminations. It will launch TV Bigshot, a contest extension of net’s Television Without Pity in which fans program a fake net with real shows. It also said that the season finale of “Top Chef” in Miami would air live.

Meanwhile, in its bid to relaunch itself as truTV, Court TV held a session with new host Star Jones that at times turned contentious. Jones deflected many questions about her own life and particularly got under journos’ skin when she hinted at an interview with her before the show debuted but wouldn’t reveal where it would appear . “Can you all just hold off?” she said.

After a chorus of reporters began shouting that Jones was “being coy” and holding out on them, Jones eventually revealed that it was not a TV interview but a print column for Glamour.

There were few details on the format of Jones’ daily talker, which debuts on Aug. 20 at 3 p.m., but insiders said it would center on current events and involve the audience more than most shows. “Conversation is coming back to daytime television,” Jones said.

Press tour also saw the Disney Channel take the wraps off the sequel to its hugely profitable “High School Musical.”

Channel will program a full “HSM2″ weekend starting with the movie premiere on Aug. 17 at 8 p.m. Pic will repeat the following night with an interactive element and repeat again on Sunday with a special sing-along telecast. Net will air a pre-show with stars, roll out musicvideos online and even air a docu from Barbara Kopple about a school stage production of the original. Phenom was a big factor in Disney’s bottom line in 2005 and 2006 via highly rated runs of the movie on the net and its top-selling album and homevideo.

In other Disney Channel news, two more original movies, “Minutemen,” starring Jason Dolley, and “Camp Rock” have been greenlit for next year, while Disney Channel Italy’s “Quelli dell’intervallo” will be reworked for U.S. auds as “As the Bell Rings.”

Panels featured many stars, including Holly Hunter and Michael Keaton promoting shows on TNT. Net is hoping Hunter’s “Saving Grace” breaks out in its Monday slot following “The Closer.”

TCA also witnessed the odd sight of outgoing GSN topper Rich Cronin, whom the net said last week would ankle at the end of the month, promoting shows others will bring to the air.

The cabler promoted its tournament show “Grand Slam,” in which Ken Jennings and other big gameshow winners will compete head to head, as well as controversial skein “Without Prejudice,” in which some judges harbor bigoted views. Execs defended the show by saying it will help auds understand prejudice. Cronin spoke only briefly about his departure, saying he was “thrilled with the growth of the net and everyone we have there.”

(Michael Schneider and Josef Adalian contributed to this report.)

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