NBC Universal unveils cable slate

Bravo, Sci Fi highlight reality shows

The NBC Universal cable networks had an extremely busy Sunday at the Television Critics Assn. confab in Beverly Hills, announcing shows both in development and picked up for series.

NBC U cabler Bravo announced a new reality series in development from Sarah Jessica Parker’s Pretty Matches shingle along with hot production unit Magical Elves (“Project Runway,” “Top Chef”).

Hourlong “American Artist” will focus on the art world, where upcoming artists would present their sculptures, paintings and other projects before a panel of judges.

Bravo also said it’s spinning off foodie fave “Top Chef” with “Top Chef: Masters,” where world-renowned chefs will compete against each other in a series of weekly challenges. In new skein “Fashion House,” based on a British format, competitors will see if they can mass produce a line for possible retail sale.

Net will have a hole to fill in its lineup when “Runway” moves to Lifetime next year.

In development at USA for next season is “Covert Affairs,” about a CIA linguist who reteams on the job with an old boyfriend. Doug Liman exec produces with Dave Bartis from Universal Cable Studios.

Conan O’Brien and David Kissinger are exec producing “Operating Instructions,” about a doctor who returns from Iraq to find she’s forced to deal with a bureaucratic medical system in the States.

“Stiffs” focuses on a pair of brothers — one a single dad and the other a medical examiner — who end up solving homicides. Peter Guber and Elizabeth Stephen exec produce.

USA also gave a second-season pickup to “In Plain Sight,” starring Mary McCormack as a U.S. marshal working with those in the witness protection program.

First-season numbers were strong, and the net ordered 16 episodes; production begins in October.

Sci Fi gave greenlights to two reality series and a scripted skein that dabbles in both live action and animation. Nonscripted hourlongs “Cash or Capture” and “Estate of Panic” each drew six-episode commitments. Both will debut in November.

Based on a Japanese gameshow, “Cash or Capture” pits contestants looking for a cash prize while being “hunted.” If they escape, they take home coin. Rick Telles exec produces.

In “Estate of Panic,” from Endemol USA, significant amount of money are hidden in a large home and contestants are asked to locate it. Richard Hall is exec producer.

“Outer Space Astronauts” examines what it takes to succeed while traveling in space. Skein, a combination of animation, 3-D and 2-D animation, is exec produced by David O. Russell, Russell Barrett and Scott Puckett.

On projects in development, Sci Fi is teaming with director Bryan Singer to construct a miniseries; in store as well at the net is “What If,” about the repercussions of a comet colliding into Earth. Show is produced by NBC Peacock Prods.

In other Sci Fi news, popular reality skein “Ghost Hunters” drew a fifth-season order.

Over at Oxygen, “Dance Your Ass Off” will have overweight women dance to hopefully shed pounds during different challenges. Exec produced by Sally Ann Salsano and developed by Lisa Ann Walter and Kate Rigg, series will debut in 2009.

In other news at Oxygen, cabler has given a third-season order to “The Bad Girls Club” and expanded the show to an hour.

Meanwhile, NBC Universal Cable Prods. will have a five-person management team in place to identify, develop and produce original content.

The new team includes Mark Stern and Jeff Wachtel as co-heads of original content; Javier Maynulet, chief financial officer and head of operations; Beth Roberts, head of business affairs; and Jerry DiCanio, head of production. All will report to Peacock cable topper Bonnie Hammer, who will oversee the recently formed unit.

“We are working to create a new way of doing business … that deals head on with the challenges facing media companies today,” Hammer said. “This structure eliminates management layers, empowering the team to evaluate and manage each project based on its maximum content and financial potential, across all possible platforms.”

Other news from the Peacock: “Saturday Night Live” will produce 22 original episodes this season rather than 20. Venerable sketch comedy skein will air 10 new episodes, beginning Sept. 13, prior to Election Day to cash in on the presidential race.

“SNL” will offer up three primetime specials in the fall, including a 90-minute edition on Nov. 3, Election Day eve.

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