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Upcoming shows getting makeovers

Jun 17, 2002  •  Post A Comment

Now that the broadcast networks have unveiled their fall schedules, the pre-launch tinkering has begun-in ritualistic fashion-to several fall and midseason series.
NBC, with the fewest new series added to its fall schedule-five-is mounting the most aggressive changes with its two midseason comedies, “AUSA” and “Life at Five Feet.” At the same time, Fox has asked “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” executive producer and creator Joss Whedon to move the scripting of the first episode of his fall 2002 sci-fi drama “Firefly” to an earlier date-instead opting to schedule the already lensed two-hour backdoor pilot episode later into the season.
Among the tweaking is the reshooting of “AUSA” as a multicamera sitcom. The original pilot used a single-camera format. According to Hollywood talent agency and studio sources, the turnabout on “AUSA’s” format is a result of an alleged change of philosophy by NBC Entertainment President Jeff Zucker.
“We’ve heard that Jeff is tired of certain single-camera sitcoms, feeling somewhat burned by how `Leap of Faith’ and `Watching Ellie’ were received by the TV critics,” said a studio source, who requested anonymity. “They are sort of rethinking how they do comedy right now, but with the success of `Scrubs’ and the order of `Hidden Hills’ [for next fall], I wouldn’t suggest they are abandoning single-camera shows by any stretch of the imagination.”
“AUSA,” which is loosely based on executive producer Rich Appel’s years as an assistant U.S. attorney in New York, is set to begin reshooting in July, with Scott Foley (“Felicity”) and Amanda Detmer (“Big Fat Liar,” “Saving Silverman”) leading the ensemble show. Mr. Appel, who was said by sources to be busily drafting a new pilot script, was unreachable at press time.
NBC is coaxing for some recasting on the Alex Borstein-led and -written “Life at Five Feet,” which is being co-produced by NBC Studios, Gavin Polone’s Pariah Television and Jersey Television. Mr. Polone and NBC officials were unreachable to identify who has been added to the cast of the midseason comedy.
Fox is said to be pressing for format changes in Mr. Whedon’s “Firefly” project, requesting accelerated delivery of a new one-hour, first-episode script, according to sources. A report on SciFi.com quoted Mr. Whedon as saying Fox is pushing for “more action and humor” in the hour-long pilot, instead of the prolonged setup introducing the characters that was the center of the original two-hour pilot.
“While I don’t know if I agree with that necessarily, they will show the pilot during the course of the season as [a] special if [they] decide not to show it at the very beginning,” Mr. Whedon told SciFi.com. “Either way, it works.”
Fox sources said it is not unusual to shuffle the airdate pattern of a first episode to a later point of a show’s run when the network is ordering 13 or more episodes of a new series.
“We were not at all displeased with the original pilot,” a Fox source said. “It was just a matter of where Sandy [Grushow, chairman of Fox Television Entertainment Group] and Gail [Berman, president of Fox Broadcasting] wanted to see what the third episode [after the two-hour pilot] would look like as well. When you are doing an hour-long premise pilot vs. a two-hour back-door pilot, there simply can be less exposition and setup time involved.”
Coming out of Fox’s presentation-tape-only preview of “Septuplets” to advertisers at last month’s upfront presentation in New York, the network and 20th Century Fox are undertaking some recasting for the seven siblings featured in the quirky family drama. Fox studio and network officials did not have immediate details on who is being added or deleted from the cast that briefly appeared in the presentation tape.
Meanwhile, additional recasting has been taking place on ABC’s drama “Dinotopia” and sitcom “Life With Bonnie.”