Women becoming force on USA

Witt joins 'L&O: CI' ; Sci Fi, Bravo finalize slates

Alicia Witt is joining the squad of "Law & Order: Criminal Intent," the drama series moving from NBC to USA Network in the fall.

The casting was one of many programming announcements made Sunday at the Beverly Hilton by NBC Universal's cable stable during the Television Critics Assn.'s final cable session. Bravo announced new season pickups of "The Real Housewives of Orange County" and "Top Chef," while Sci Fi is resurrecting the former series "Farscape" for an Internet-only run.

The addition of Witt also reflects something of a new trend at USA, where network president Bonnie Hammer is looking to bring in strong female characters for upcoming new series, including "In Plain Sight" and "To Love & Die," which star Mary McCormack and Shiri Appleby, respectively.

"USA in recent years has been a little too focused on guys for my tastes," said Hammer, who also is president of Sci Fi.

Witt ("The Upside of Anger") will sub for Julianne Nicholson, who will be out on maternity leave. She plays Det. Nola Falacci opposite Chris Noth's Det. Mike Logan.

"Alicia Witt will add a new dimension to the series as it enters its seventh season," said Jeff Wachtel, executive vp original programming at USA.

In an unusual move, "CI" was left off corporate sibling NBC's schedule during May's upfront presentations and sent packing to USA, where it will begin running Thursdays at 10 p.m. beginning Oct. 4.

Sci Fi is reviving the cult favorite "Farscape," which originally ran on the network from 1999-2003, as a 10-part series on SciFi.com. "Farscape," one of three new broadband-only series being introduced by the network, is executive produced by Brian Henson and Robert Halmi Jr. of the Jim Henson Co. with RHI Entertainment.

"Farscape" star Ben Browder and producer Andrew Prowse also are developing a six-hour miniseries for Sci Fi inspired by "The Odyssey," titled "Going Homer."

Sci Fi is extending its "Battlestar Galactica" franchise with a series of "minisodes," each just a few minutes long, set to unspool in October, leading up to a full-length special episode, "Razor," on Nov. 24. The minisodes, which depict the original Cylon war, will be packaged with a DVD release of "Razor" and be made available on SciFi.com after their on-air run.

Bravo is bringing back reality veterans "Housewives" for a third season and "Chef" for a fourth. The fourth season of another Bravo unscripted hit, "Project Runway," has been scheduled for the fourth quarter. Also returning are "Workout" and, for a final season, "Queer Eye for the Straight Guy."

A pair of new unscripted series also will join the Bravo schedule: "Make Me a Supermodel," based on a British format, and the previously announced "Better Half," which has been slated for an October premiere. USA is also introducing a new special, "The A-List Awards," in March 2008, honoring luminaries in the arts.

Sci Fi also has a full development slate, including the animated series "The Awesomes" from "Saturday Night Live" star Seth Meyers, who is executive producing with "SNL's" Lorne Michaels and Michael Shoemaker; an untitled miniseries from actor Thomas Jane and author Steve Niles; and "God, Inc." with Francis Stokes, who is also developing a drama for Sci Fi.

Sci Fi also has four unscripted series in development, including "UFO Hunters" from Craig Piligian's Pilgrim Films.

USA also announced a 2008 development slate of new scripted series, including "Halo," from Fox TV Studios with executive producer Bob Cooper of Landscape Entertainment; "The Expert," from Universal Media Studios and DreamWorks with writer/executive producer Chris Murphey ("Dead Lawyers"); and "Citizen's Arrest," from UMS with executive producers Ron West, Kelly Kulchak, Jason Ward and David Garrett (the latter two are also writers).

Bravo is also making moves on the Internet, launching TVBigshot.com, a game that allows TV fans to program their own fantasy broadcast-network lineups in a contest for a very real $100,000. TVBigshot.com is an outgrowth of a Web site Bravo acquired this year, TelevisionWithoutPity.com.