James Caan and Mandy Patinkin in the original <I>Alien Nation</i> James Caan and Mandy Patinkin in the original Alien Nation

Sci Fi Channel, which on July 6 will relaunch as SyFy, is developing a new take on the 1988 movie Alien Nation. Tim Minear (Angel, Firefly) will pen the series.

Previously adapted in 1989 as a short-lived Fox series (succeeded by five TV-movies), Alien Nation follows a human cop and his alien detective partner, against the backdrop of Earth's begrudging assimilation of ETs banished from their home world, where they served as slaves. The original film starred James Caan and Mandy Patinkin (sporting a prosthetic scalp).

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"It's genre mixed with procedural mixed with funny mixed with big, giant scary," Minear told Variety. "I love serialized stuff, but this is also a cop franchise. That Starsky & Hutch/Lethal Weapon buddy-cop comedy is absent from TV right now."

With the alien outcasts still segregated from human society 20 years after their arrival, Minear also plans to touch on "the idea of a ghettoized minority... racism, terrorism, assimilation, immigration. And there's room for satire."

Minear sees SyFy as a good fit for such a saga, noting, "On cable, you can play with ambiguity."

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With the cabler hoping to cast a wider net under the SyFy brand, programming executive VP Mark Stern told Variety an Alien Nation reboot is "very much in keeping with what we've been looking to do — find themes that are more than just hard sci-fi, something that feels contemporary and relevant and invites a broad audience in."

"The challenge," he said, "is how do you do it in a way that will reinvent it without it feeling like a derivative rehash. [Minear's] approach felt like it wouldn't be a traditional adaptation. We got excited."