18 episodes to air in 2009

Lifetime is already enlisting a third season for “Army Wives,” which has earned its stripes as the top-rated cable series among young women.

Meanwhile, net is ramping up its unscripted development, announcing several projects in development, including one featuring Mario Lopez and another starring Sean “Diddy” Combs’ ex-galpal Kim Porter.

Lifetime announced the pickup and development during its portion of the TV Critics Assn. press tour Friday. Also Friday, Starz announced a premiere date for the TV version of “Crash.”

Among the unscripted Lifetime fare in the works, actor and producer Blair Underwood is behind the Porter project, which comes from iCandy Prods. Show will follow Porter as she adjusts to a new life in Los Angeles as a single mom. Porter and Diddy dated on and off for a decade before calling it quits last year; together, they’re the parents of three children.

Lopez will exec produce the project “Love & Salsa” with Gay Rosenthal (“Behind the Music”) for Lifetime; Lopez is also attached to appear in every episode. Project is centered on the world of salsa dancers in Los Angeles.

Channel is also continuing to develop the project “The Week the Women Went” with BBC Worldwide. Close-ended competish revolves around stay-at-home moms who are given a spa vacation — leaving their husbands to oversee kids and housework (Daily Variety, Nov. 26).

New food-centric daytime unscripted projects include “Cook Yourself Thin,” from Tiger Aspect, and “Mom’s Cooking,” from Boy Wonder Prods.

Prexy-CEO Andrea Wong opened the sesh with the “Army Wives” news. Femme-centric cabler just picked up 18 episodes for season three, which is set to bow in 2009.

“Since premiering last year, ‘Army Wives’ has become a game-changer for Lifetime,” she said. “Announcing this early renewal is a testament to the enormous faith and confidence we have in this show and its incredibly talented cast and production team.”

ABC Studios produces “Army Wives,” which first launched last year and quickly became the top-rated series in Lifetime’s history.

Show, which airs Sundays at 10 p.m., is No. 1 with women 18-49 as well as women 25-54 among all ad-supported basic cable series.

“In its first two seasons, ‘Army Wives’ has broken performance records on Lifetime and set exemplary standards for quality drama television,” said ABC Studios prexy Mark Pedowitz.

“Army Wives” stars Kim Delaney, Sally Pressman, Brigid Brannagh, Brian McNamara, Sterling K. Brown, Wendy Davis, Drew Fuller and Catherine Bell. Nick Thiel and Katherine Fugate are exec producers, along with Mark Gordon Deborah Spera.

Meanwhile, at the TCA sesh, Wong touted Lifetime’s ratings gains over the past several months. Lifetime just completed its most-watched June in five years.

“What we’ve done in past year is take this powerful brand and make it even more relevant,” she said.

Wong also acknowledged the departure of entertainment prexy Susanne Daniels, who was not present.

“I will really miss her,” Wong said. “I know everyone in company feels the same way. She’s leaving us with enormous momentum.”

Wong said Lifetime had already identified several candidates for the job, and that the search to find Daniels’ successor will accelerate in the coming weeks.

Separately, pay cabler Starz has set an Oct. 17 premiere date for its first original drama series, “Crash,” loosely based on the Oscar-winning pic. At a TCA panel sesh, star Dennis Hopper described his character, music mogul Ben Cendars, as the most “out there” that he’s ever played.

(Cynthia Littleton contributed to this report.)

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