‘Motel’ checks in

Sci Fi greenlights series and thriller

Sci Fi Channel has greenlit the big-budget limited series “Motel Man,” and is teaming with “Lost” producer Jesse Alexander on “Snap,” a one-hour thriller about a federal agent up against a Big Brother-type artificial intelligence.

The NBC Universal cable network will unveil the projects today during its upfront presentation to advertisers in New York.

“Motel Man” will serve as Sci Fi’s annual tentpole event in December, following last year’s “The Triangle” from Bryan Singer and Dean Devlin and 2004’s “Legend of Earthsea.” Cabler committed to Steven Spielberg’s 12-part afterlife epic “Nine Lives” for 2007 during this year’s winter Television Critics Assn. press tour (Daily Variety, Jan. 13).

Eight-hour “Motel Man,” billed as a cross between “The Fugitive” and “The Twilight Zone,” follows a detective who discovers a seemingly ordinary motel room key that opens up a portal to alternate worlds, and lets loose a set of mundane objects with mysterious powers.

Chris Leone, Laura Harkcom and Paul Workman wrote and will co-exec produce the project.Lionsgate Television is on board to produce. Production is set to start this summer.

Sci Fi exec VP of programming Mark Stern said the project is a departure from the channel’s previous big-budget tentpoles. “‘Motel Man’ is interesting for us because it’s not a splashy high-concept event like ‘The Triangle’,” he said. “This is more intimate and involved. It has a different vibe to it.”

Program is in keeping with Sci Fi’s longstanding mission to expand the cabler beyond space operas and traditional science-fiction fare. Skein “Eureka,” set in a sleepy town of government-employed inventors, launches this summer.

“Motel Man” is “different for Sci Fi, and that’s a good thing” Lionsgate TV topper Kevin Beggs said. “To me, that’s where networks score business, when the shows depart from tried and true but still make sense for the core audience.”

If the channel’s bet on “Motel Man” pays off, Stern said the show could morph into a regular series, much in the same way that USA Network’s “The 4400” began as a mini and later returned as a recurring show.

“Snap” is set in a contemporary reality in which artificial intelligence has become autonomous, forcing select individuals to perform actions against their will.

Sci Fi is also expected to announce additional development and news about its yet-to-launch broadband service and other new media opportunities. No word yet on a pickup for the potential series “Dresden Files,” also from Lionsgate.