Prognosticating the pilot picks

May 6, 2002  •  Post A Comment

With broadcast network executives in full screening mode last week, early buzz on the fates and fortunes of pilots was starting to leak out.
With the upfront prime-time presentations coming next week, ABC and NBC were said to be the furthest along in their comedy screenings-with midnight oil expected to burn across the town this week on remaining drama and sitcom screenings.
ABC programmers were hunkered down by the middle of last week to screen pilots, reflecting the struggling network’s need to address at least six nights of its schedule. Led by recently installed ABC Entertainment President Susan Lyne, the network is high on at least eight sitcoms so far, studio and agency sources said.
Liking a show isn’t, however, the same as loving it enough to place it on the fall schedule. Nevertheless, sources close to ABC said the network is high on such family sitcoms as “A Few Simples Rules” (also known as “8 Simple Rules for Dating My Teenage Daughter”), “Regular Joe” and “The Funkhousers.”
Among the more adult-themed comedies, ABC is said to like the untitled John Ridley project, which features Duane Martin and Ming-Na in an interracial romantic comedy. ABC execs are also said to have found the Cheri Oteri-led “With You in Spirit” another “funny, cute” comedy, applying the same adjectives to the TV adaptation of “Legally Blonde.” However, “Essex Prep,” a teen-based school comedy, is said not to have screened well, despite noted producer-directors Brad Grey and James Burrows’ involvement in the project.
There have also been conflicting rumors about what may be teamed with “Regular Joe,” including speculation that the untitled Bonnie Hunt family project or “A Few Simple Rules” could be paired with it for either 8 p.m. or 9 p.m. hour weekday runs. What seems to be the prevailing buzz from studio and agency watchers is that ABC could look to create family comedy hours across its entire weeknight schedule.
“We’re definitely in a rebuilding mode, and family shows are going to get an emphasis in both comedy and drama, with the 8 o’clock hour getting that emphasis,” said Jeff Bader, ABC’s executive VP of program planning and scheduling, in an earlier interview. Sources think ABC could order up to eight new comedies.
While ABC is said to have screened only a few dramas last week, some early favorable buzz went to “That Was Then,” a fantasy drama about a 30-year-old man who goes back in time to his high school days to correct his life path. Another adult-oriented drama getting favorable notices is “The Oath,” featuring doctors working within the embattled HMO system. “Capital City,” a drama about a female congressional staffer taking on the Washington political machine, was also said to be getting high early marks.
Without seeing a final cut of some family-oriented dramas, Mr. Bader saw potential in “Veritas,” “The Chang Family Saves The World” and “Paranormal Girl.”
At top-ranked NBC, the network has perhaps little more than 3 hours to fill on its schedule-mostly eyeing 8:30 p.m. Thursday, 8 p.m. to 9 p.m. Tuesday and up to two hours on Sunday. High on the priority list are Tuesday and Thursday comedies, where NBC is already said to be considering such adult-themed sitcoms as the Alex Borstein-led “Life at Five Feet,” the Kelsey Grammer-produced “In-Laws,” an untitled comedy featuring standup comic Greg Giraldo and the Jonathan Grof-produced “It’s Not About Me.” “Good Morning, Miami,” which already has a 13-episode commitment, is said to be a contender for the post-“Friends” slot on Thursday.
“Romeo Fire,” an ensemble comedy set in a small-town firehouse, is said by sources to have screened poorly; Ditto for “Class of ’06,” a college comedy from Adam Chase (“Friends”).
On the drama front, NBC is said to have liked “Young Arthur,” “Our Generation,” “Boomtown,” “Miss Miami” and “Kingpin.” NBC is said to still be leaning toward edgy “cop-like” dramas for Sunday nights, but there was one studio source who said there is concern about “Kingpin” (dealing with the drug trade) being a tough sell to advertisers.
Dramas said to have scored low marks in NBC’s screenings were “Zero Effect” and “Mister Sterling.”
Fox, looking to rebound from an off-season atypical due to rapidly aging dramas, such as the departing “Ally McBeal” and “The X-Files,” is said to be high on at least three new drama pilots but has to formally screen all of the final product. Nevertheless, word is growing that David E. Kelley’s “Girls Club” legal drama is a shoo-in to take the 9 p.m. Monday time slot, coming out of his “Boston Public” drama. “It’s David Kelley’s night for the taking,” added a source.
Advance buzz is also good for either Joss Whedon’s “Firefly” or a remake of “Time Tunnel”to take “The X-Files”’ vacated 9 p.m. Sunday slot. However, there is also word that “Time Tunnel” could be teamed on Friday with “Dark Angel” (said to be “on the bubble” by studio sources) or another new drama.
Flying in the face of ad-buyer speculation about Fox mulling a move of “Malcolm in the Middle” or “Bernie Mac” to the 8 p.m. Thursday hour, Fox insiders emphatically state it will take a “totally different direction” on the night for next season. Fox may program Thursday toward young-female-adult demos, possibly with an all-drama lineup. Some studios sources said Fox liked what it saw of the TV adaptation of the movie, “Save the Last Dance,” which features a young female ballerina, enough for consideration on Thursday.
On the comedy side, Fox is said to be high on family comedy “The Grubbs,” possibly considering it for the 8:30 p.m. Tuesday time slot out of hit “That ’70s Show.” An untitled comedy project starring Ricky Blitt is getting high scores, with early speculation it could get the 9:30 p.m. Wednesday slot out of “Bernie Mac.” Speculation has also been swirling about a second or first run of “Malcolm” kicking off 8 p.m. Wednesday to further boost “Andy Richter Controls the Universe” next fall. Sources said “That ’80s Show,” “Greg the Bunny” and “Grounded for Life” are all riding the fence for pickup next season.
CBS, on the drama front, is said to be high on Jerry Bruckheimer’s “Without a Trace,” for a 10 p.m. Wednesday or Thursday time slot. Spinoff “CSI: Miami,” already with a 13-episode commitment, is said by sources to be headed for a 10 p.m. Monday or 9 p.m. Friday slot, where it would serve as a lead-in to an untitled Michael Mann (“Miami Vice”) project presently getting high marks. “Jo,” a drama starring Andie MacDowell, is also being talked about highly for 8 p.m. Saturday or Sunday slottings.
The big surprises among dramas not getting positive buzz, according to studio sources, are the John Wells-produced “Presidio Med,” the Helen Mirren-led “Georgetown” and the Paul Attanasio-produced “R.U.S./H.”