'Niche-Smiche,' Says Sci Fi

"There's a signpost up ahead. Your next stop, Wisteria Lane."

Michael Douglas will executive produce a new series for NBC Universal's Sci Fi Channel that is being pitched as a cross between Desperate Housewives and Twilight Zone. Plus, there's a giant squid, two billion people disappearing, and a monster ready to devour the Midwest, including Judd Nelson.

Those are just some of the host of new series and movies from the network, which notched its best quarterly ratings ever in first quarter 2005 (averaging 1.30 million total viewers in prime), and will try to grow that audience even more by enlarging the tent to include more mainstream fantasy and adventure.

“This isn’t a niche, narrow genre and Sci Fi isn’t a niche, narrow network,” said Dave Howe, Sci Fi’s Executive Vice President and GM, of the network’s evolution. “We’re helping change the misperceptions of what Sci Fi is,” said president Bonnie Hammer, who also heads co-owned USA.

At a presentation to the press in New York, the network took the wraps off seven new scripted series in development for 2006, plus three alternative/reality series and a whopping 28 original movies, up from the 23 movies on its 2005 slate.

The untitled Douglas project will weave together themes from author Shirley Jackson supernatural short stories with the real life experiences told in her non-fiction books.

Other scripted series in development:

Heroes Anonymous, an hour live-action series about a group of 20-something would-be superheroes, based on the comic books created by Scott Gimpel and Bill Morrison and published by Matt Groening’s (The Simpsons) Bongo Comics. NBC Universal Television studio and Bender-Brown Productions will produce.

Those Who Walk In Darkness, a near-future drama based on John Ridley’s (Third Watch, Three Kings) novel about a SWAT team hunting down “metanormals” with genetic superpowers. Ridley will write and produce the series with NBC Universal Television Studios.

Urban Arcana, based on a Hasbro/Worlds of Wonder role-playing game about mythological creatures from a parallel world who cross through a portal into the human realm. Gary A. Randall and Rockne O’Bannon (The Triangle, Farscape) will executive produce with Fox Television Studios.

Tomorrow’s Child, about a girl brought back to life after an accident by an extraterrestrial skin graft that gives her supernatural powers and sends the government on her trail. NBC Universal Television Studio and Gary Foster’s Horseshoe Bay Productions (Daredevil, Elektra) will produce.

Time Tunnel, an update of the classic 1960s series by Irwin Allen about a female scientist and a government agent trapped in time when their experimental time-travel project is sabotaged. Allen’s wife, Shelia Allen, will produce with Fox Television Studios and Synthesis Entertainment’s Kevin Burns and Jon Jashni.

3:52, a series from writer/producer John Tinker (St. Elsewhere, L.A. Law, Judging Amy, The Practice) that asks what would happen if 2 billion people vanished off the face of the earth and no one knew why.

Alternative/Reality series:

Barbarian Chronicles, a half-hour animated series about “middle-earth metrosexuals,” from Brendon Small (Home Movies), which the network is  pitching as Lord of the Rings meets Curb Your Enthusiasm. Small and David Letterman’s Worldwide Pants will executive produce.

Seriously Baffling Mysteries, a half-hour docu-spoof of supernatural investigative reporting from FremantleMedia North America.

Dallas in Wonderland, a half-hour reality show in which British TV star Dallas Campbell takes on a series of self-inflicted sci-fi challenges. R.J. Cutler’s Actual Reality Pictures (American High, 30 Days) will executive produce.

Movies slated for 2006 include:

Fire Alien, a movie from William Shatner.

Gryphon, the story of a prince and princess from warring kingdoms who join forces to fight an evil wizard.

Heat Stroke, about a soldier who fights alien-imposed global warming (from Farscape executive producer David Kemper).

Citadel, about an elite corps of American soldiers who fight a Nazi-created killer beast in the mountains of Europe after D-Day.

Black Hole Terror (working title), about a creature that emerges from a black hole adn threatens to swallow the Midwest, including Kristy Swanson and Judd Nelson.

Squid Tentacles (working title), about one man’s battle to defeat a one-eyed beast that attacks a treasure hunting crew.

Magma, a volcano disaster film starring 24’s Xander Berkley and Reiko Aylesworth and Felicity’s Amy Jo Johnson.