'Army Wives' spinoff closer

Gabrielle Union joins show as part of an 'embedded pilot'

Lifetime is taking another step toward launching an "Army Wives" spinoff, casting Gabrielle Union in a pivotal role and planning an "embedded pilot" that will air this season.

The network has been developing a "Wives"-inspired crime drama during recent months under executive vp entertainment JoAnn Alfano. Now the project is moving to the next level, with Lifetime airing a special "Wives" episode near the end of the current fourth season that will set the stage to launch the potential series.

In the episode, "Wives" regular Pamela Moran (Brigid Brannagh) returns to her former career and becomes a detective with the Atlanta police department. Union will play her partner, Detective Gina Holt.

Union recently played Zoey in ABC's "FlashForward" and also was featured in NBC's "Life." She is repped by UTA and Jeff Morrone.

Embedded pilots have become an increasingly common way to shoot without significantly adding extra costs. "Wives" averages 3 million viewers an episode and ranks as the top-rated original drama on ad-supported cable among women 25-54.

"Wives" writers Bruce Zimmerman and T.D. Mitchell are attached to the project, with producers ABC Studios and the Mark Gordon Co. also on board. Gordon, Deborah Spera, Jeff Melvoin, Marshall Persinger and Harry Bring are executive producing.