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Networks Look To Lighter Drama

After years of dramas dominated by dead bodies and angst-ridden detectives, the networks may lighten things up this fall.

With light-hearted dramas like Grey’s Anatomy and rookie Ugly Betty boosting ABC on lucrative Thursday nights, the networks are lining up, as they always do, to chase the latest genre to succeed in primetime. An analysis of the 45 drama-pilot pickups from the five networks indicates that this fall’s new crop of dramas may bring more laughs and less serialization than in years past.

While gloomy hits 24 and the CSI franchise still deliver huge ratings, the networks may have reached maximum capacity in that arena: Viewers collectively shunned a batch of decidedly dark fare last fall. Audiences, it seems, may have had enough. Moreover, with the networks’ inability to resuscitate the 30-minute comedy, lightening up dramas is one way to remedy the problem.

“You look at what’s out there, and it’s hard to imagine another strict procedural with dark storylines could fit anywhere,” says CW drama chief Thom Sherman. “You have three CSIs and three Law & Orders, and you see what happened with a show like The Nine, which was a terrific show. Maybe it is time for a change, hopefully.”

Last season, such shows as ABC’s gritty The Nine and NBC’s parental nightmare Kidnapped attracted strong buzz, but when the season started, they and many like them fizzled while lighter dramas like Ugly Betty prospered.

With Betty a hit, Grey’s still strong after moving to Thursdays, and even shows like NBC’s Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip playing up comedy and romance in a nod to ratings, network executives say lighter dramas are taking hold.

“It certainly feels like it’s in the ether and it’s working,” says ABC Senior VP of Drama Development Suzanne Patmore-Gibbs. “People may be ready for more-uplifting shows at the end of the day.”

She is happy that audiences are looking for something more than melancholy crime and courtroom dramas: “I think it’s liberating for a lot of us because it expands the range of what we can do. When everyone was trying to replicate those, it felt very limiting.”

NBC development chief Katharine Pope says a lack of comedic elements in dramas in recent years “was a mistake, and we are course-correcting.” Injecting more comedy into dramas, she observes, gives them a real-life feel: “Nobody’s lives are just constant dead bodies and saving the world.”

Pope adds that having more comedy in dramas is a natural evolution as a result of sitcoms’ drying up on network TV in recent years: “More comedy writers moved into the one-hour form because they couldn’t get jobs.”

An added benefit: Fewer dark, violent images may help keep the violence-vigilant FCC at bay.

But the networks aren’t likely to forgo crime and courtroom dramas, which remain the backbone of what works in the drama genre.

“For as much as people put into figuring out new workplaces or new franchises, [police and court dramas] stand the test of time for a reason: There are automatic stakes,” says Fox Executive VP Craig Erwich. “Those stories are hard to beat.”

So while police, court and medical dramas aren’t going anywhere, network executives do say they need to back off the heavy serialization.

“That is something we learned this year,” says ABC’s Patmore-Gibbs. “Obviously, serials have worked, but we can’t rely so heavily on things you need to do a lot of homework to watch.”

More closed-ended hits would be good news for studios, as they command higher prices from off-network buyers. For instance, the Law & Order and CSI franchises can fetch $1 million-$2 million per episode, while a serialized hit like Desperate Housewives last year brought in just $500,000 per episode from Lifetime.

And Fox’s Erwich says his network, like the others, is conscious of what happened last fall, when audiences for the most part greeted a batch of dark, serialized dramas with a collective shrug.

“You can’t rely on concepts alone,” he says. “The audience is very wise when it comes to the networks’ trying to rip themselves off or go to territory they’ve ventured to before. It was a very hard year.”


With Grey’s Anatomy, Desperate Housewives and Ugly Betty headlining a solid drama roster, expect more light and female-skewing dramas from ABC.
“We have a lot of things with humor because that’s been working for us,” says ABC Senior VP of Drama Development Suzanne Patmore-Gibbs.
Fitting into that mold is Cashmere Mafia, a Sex and the City-type drama from that show’s creator Darren Star, which features the lives of four successful female execs who are longtime friends.
“It is a zeitgeisty show right now, hopefully,” Patmore-Gibbs says. “There seems to be an audience to tap into that right now.”
Perhaps scared off by the failures of the serialized The Nine and Six Degrees, ABC will also look to program shows that have more–self-contained episodes.
Another project of note is Mr. and Mrs. Smith, an adaptation of the Brad Pitt-Angelina Jolie film about married assassins. The network will make the leads into spies instead to soften the show a bit. 2007 Development Slate:

Cashmere Mafia

The Scoop: Four successful female executives, friends since college, rely on each other as they juggle the demands of career, family and high ambitions in New York City.
Studio: Sony and Darren Star Prods.
Executive Producers: Darren Star, Gail Katz, Kevin Wade, Susie Fitzgerald

Dirty Sexy Money

The Scoop: A young attorney inherits a case representing a rich and powerful family who walk the line of the law.
Studio: Touchstone
Executive Producers: Craig Wright, Greg Berlanti, Peter Horton, Brian Singer

Eli Stone

The Scoop: Thirtysomething attorney (Jonny Lee Miller) begins to have larger-than-life visions that compel him to do out-of-the-ordinary things. Victor Garber co-stars.
Studio: Touchstone
Executive Producers: Greg Berlanti, Marc Gugenheim

Untitled Jon Feldman

The Scoop: From the creator of American Dreams; revolves around a group of CEOs gone wild, stars Michael Vartan
Studio: Warner Bros.
Executive Producer: Jon Feldman

Football Wives

The Scoop: U.S. version of the British series but featuring wives of professional football players, not soccer.
Studio: Touchstone
Executive Producers: Chris Brancato, Bert Salke, Brian Singer, Marco Pennette

Judy’s Got a Gun

The Scoop: Suburban woman balances being a single mother with being a detective investigating bizarre suburban crimes.
Studio: Touchstone
Executive Producers: Michelle King, Robert King, Stu Bloomberg

Life on Mars

The Scoop: Detective whose girlfriend has just been kidnapped finds himself transported back to the 1970s. Based on the BBC series.
Studio: Twentieth Television
Executive Producers: David E. Kelley, Stephen Garrett, Jane Featherstone


The Scoop: Based on the famous film and literary character Phillip Marlowe but set in modern times
Studio: Touchstone
Executive Producers:Sean Bailey, Greg Pruss, Carol Wolper, Daniel Pipski, Dan Blatt

Mr. & Mrs. Smith

The Scoop: Based on the hit feature film, but the married couple are spies, not assassins.
Studio: Regency TV and Dutch Oven
Executive Producers: Simon Kinberg, Doug Liman, Dave Bartis

Pushing Daisies

The Scoop: Quirky, high-concept romantic drama about someone who can bring back the dead
Studio: Warner Bros.
Executive Producers:Bryan Fuller, Dan Jinks, Bruce Cohen

Untitled Rina Mimoun

The Scoop:From the producer of Everwood; about a family of seven lawyers
Studio: Warner Bros.
Executive Producer: Rina Mimoun


The Scoop: Stylish, fast-paced procedural uncovers the perpetrator by tracing the suspects.
Studio: Sony and 25C Productions
Executive Producers: Ed Zuckerman, Guy Ritchie, Sarah Timberman, Carl Beverly

Women’s Murder Club

The Scoop: Four girlfriends solve tough murder cases. Based on James Patterson’s series of mystery books
Studio: Twentieth Television
Executive Producers: Liz Craft, Sarah Fain, Brett Ratner, James Patterson, Joe Simpson.
______________________________________________________________________________ CBS

Speaking at the recent Television Critics Association press tour, CBS executives bemoaned the lack of buzz that their shows drum up despite solid ratings.
So it is no surprise CBS has a drama slate this year with some subjects beyond the typical crime and caper dramas, including wife-swapping and a “dramedy” in which people come back from the dead.
“We wanted to find shows that are going to be talked about,” Entertainment President Nina Tassler says. “Earlier this year, we were talking about kind of throwing out the rule book and really trying new kinds of shows.”
Tassler is high on Swingtown, about couples in 1970s suburbia who are exploring swapping partners.
“There’s a lot of humor, a lot of irony and a lot of slightly risqué subject matter,” says Tassler. “I truly believe that doing a show set in 1976 about open marriage will get people talking.”
Other jolts to the typical CBS viewer may come from musical Viva Laughlin! and Babylon Fields, about dead people who return to their former lives.


The Scoop: A sardonic, apocalyptic American comedy-drama where the dead are rising and, as a result, lives are regained, families restored and old wounds reopened.
Studio: Twentieth Television
Executive Producers: Michael Cuesta


The Scoop: Ex-Jesuit priest/psychologist fights the demons in his life as well as in others’.
Studio: CBS Paramount
Executive Producers: Barbara Hall, Joe Roth, Nina Lederman

LOS DUQUES (working title)

The Scoop: Drama about a multi-generational Latin American family in the rum business
Studio: CBS Paramount
Executive Producers: Cynthia Cidre, Jonathan Prince, Polly Anthony, Jimmy Iovine


The Scoop: Cops living in the Los Angeles suburbs deal with the stresses of police life on and off the job.
Studio: NBC Universal Television Studio
Executive Producers: Gary Scott Thompson

Untitled Barry Schindel Project

The Scoop: From the creator of Numb3rs, ensemble drama following the lives, relationships, cases and careers of a team of public defenders
Studio: CBS Paramount
Executive Producers: Barry Schindel, Ridley Scott, Tony Scott, David Zucker


The Scoop: Charming rogue (Stephen Dorff) with a heart of gold plies his trade as a skip tracer amid the colorful characters and odd, eventful underbelly of Los Angeles.
Studio: CBS Paramount
Executive Producers: Stephen Dorff, Tucker Tooley, Robin Green, Mitchell Burgess


The Scoop: Married couples in 1970s suburbia explore mate-swapping and open marriages.
Studio: CBS Paramount
Executive Producers: Mike Kelley, Alan Poul


The Scoop: A vampire who works as an investigator
Studio: Warner Bros.
Executive Producers: Joel Silver, Trevor Munson, Ron Koslow, Gerard Bocaccio

VIVA LAUGHLIN! (working title)

The Scoop: Based on the BBC miniseries, a rollicking musical following Ripley Holden and his family as they attempt to run a casino in Laughlin, Nev.
Studio: Sony and CBS Paramount
Executive Producers: Hugh Jackman, Paul Talegdy, Bob Lowry _________________________________________________________________________

The CW has several goals with its first full development slate, but top of the list is to try to create some buzz for the fledgling network.
“We’re going to have to make noise, obviously given where we are as a network,” says Executive VP of Drama Development Thom Sherman.
In addition to picking projects that stay true to the network’s target audience of adults 18-34, Sherman says The CW needs to build its talent base.
“We need to get in business with some of the top writers in town,” he says. “People that may not have been with UPN and The WB before.”
Among the five drama pilots are Gossip Girl, from The O.C.’s Josh Schwartz and Stephanie Savage. Based on a successful book series, it focuses on a group of rich youngsters.
“It’s got a great pedigree,” Sherman says, “and it’s a huge opportunity for us.”
With next year’s schedule fluid at this point, he says the network wanted to make sure it didn’t pick shows that fit with nothing on its current roster.
2007 Development Slate:


The Scoop: The lives of rich youngsters and their parents in New York City, from the perspective of a secretive tell-all columnist/blogger.
Studio:Warner Bros. and Alloy
Executive Producers: Josh Schwartz, Stephanie Savage, Bob Levy


The Scoop: Features a sexy ensemble of rookie cops and their training officers in Los Angeles and shot in an edgy cinema vérité style.
Studio: CBS Paramount and DreamWorks
Executive Producers: Darryl Frank, Justin Falvey


The Scoop: Comedic drama about a 21-year-old slacker who becomes the devil’s bounty hunter, retrieving souls escaped from hell.
Studio: Touchstone and Mark Gordon Co.
Executive Producers: Michele Fazekas, Tara Butters, Mark Gordon, Deb Spera


The Scoop: Drama about a New York veterinarian who takes his second wife and their two sets of children and relocates to a South African game reserve
Studio: CBS Paramount and Company Pictures
Executive Producers: Michael Rauch, Charlie Patinson, George Faber


The Scoop: A one-hour with comedy about two cheeky Princeton students who use their skills to help solve crimes
Studio: Warner Bros. and Class IV
Executive Producers: Tom Wheeler, Steve Pearlman, Andrew Plotkin _______________________________________________________________________ FOX

After a fall season it wants to forget, Fox has a slate with projects it hopes will be more memorable. While many networks are going lighter, Fox is unafraid to stay with some dark and edgy projects.
“We tried to have a little of everything,” says Executive VP Craig Erwich, “so we have as many options going into May as possible.”
One of the network’s biggest plays may be Sarah Connor Chronicles, based on the characters from the Terminator film series.
“On paper, it is a major project for us,” Erwich says. “They did not rest on the laurels of the Terminator franchise, they really reinvented it but are true to its core.”
Fox also has K-Ville, a cop show set in post-Katrina New Orleans.
Erwich says the network may be searching for something to pair with hit medical drama House and is still looking at what to do with Friday nights.
2007 Development Slate:


The Scoop: Cop soap, set in a cul-de-sac where cops and their families live
Studio: Twentieth Television
Executive Producers: Chuck Pratt


The Scoop: A brash, no-holds-barred female defense attorney faces moral and ethical challenges in the courtroom and at home.
Studio: Sony and Apostle
Executive Producers: Denis Leary, Jim Serpico


The Scoop: A group cuts through the red tape of medical bureaucracy—often at their own peril—to get care to those who need it most.
Studio: Warner Bros. and Weed Road Pictures
Executive Producers: Patrick Massett, John Zinman, Akiva Goldsman


The Scoop: A group of cops in post-Katrina New Orleans face the special challenges of enforcing the law in a city whose infrastructure has been completely upended.
Studio: Twentieth Television
Executive Producers: Jonathan Lisco


The Scoop: A man granted eternal life works as an NYC homicide detective, providing closure for others while he searches for his own.
Studio: Regency and Scarlet Fire Films
Executive Producers: Allan Loeb, Christian Taylor, David Manson, Lasse Hallstrom, Leslie Holleran, Steven Pearl


The Scoop: From the 24 team; a family man is pressed into service by the NSA to be a spy within the defense-contracting company he works for.
Studio: Twentieth Television and Realtime Productions
Executive Producers: Bob Cochran, David Ehrman, Jon Cassar, Joel Surnow, Howard Gordon


The Scoop: Comedic drama about the lives and loves of a team of nurses in a big-city hospital
Studio: Twentieth Television, Shed Productions and Josephson Entertainment
Executive Producers: Barry Josephson, Eileen Gallagher, Ann McManus, PJ Hogan


The Scoop: Continuing the Terminator mythology, show follows Sarah and John in present-day Los Angeles as they fight attackers from the future in a battle for survival of the human race.
Studio: Warner Bros. and C-2 Pictures
Executive Producers: Josh Friedman, David Nutter, James Middleton, Mario Kassar, Andrew Vajna, Joel Michaels


The Scoop: Comedic drama centered on the personal and professional lives of six Supreme Court clerks and the robes they work for.
Studio: Twentieth Television and Adelstein Productions
Executive Producers: Gary Tieche, Marty Adelstein, Michael Thorn


The Scoop:Based on the graphic novel SIX about extraterrestrial espionage on Earth; an agent is dispatched to retrieve a rogue operative from his sleeper cell and finds himself tempted by the same earthly delights that corrupted his predecessors.
Studio: CBS Paramount and Circle of Confusion
Executive Producers: David Eick, John McNamara, Jonathan Mostow
___________________________________________________________________________ NBC

NBC is hoping to continue its turnaround by going for greater variety this year.
“A lot of our shows last year were pretty dark, so this year we thought, 'Let’s try and get a diversity of tone,’” says NBC development chief Katherine Pope.
The network also wants to expand its portfolio of strong female characters.
“A large portion of the audience is female,” Pope says, “and we can’t ignore that.”
To that end, NBC may bet on Lipstick Jungle, based on the novel from Sex and the City author Candace Bushnell. The show features three wealthy and powerful female executives.
The network also has a remake of The Bionic Woman.
And Pope says NBC can’t get too caught up in developing a similar companion for its rookie hit drama Heroes, especially after watching ABC struggle to find a companion for Lost, which it eventually moved to 10 p.m.
2007 Development Slate:


The Scoop: Re-imagination of the ’70s series with focus on woman’s place in the world today
Studio: NBC Universal TV Studio
Executive producers: David Eick, Bruno Heller


The Scoop: An unlikely hero undertakes missions every week while still working his day job as a computer geek.
Studio: Warner Bros.
Executive producers: Josh Schwartz, Chris Fedak, McG, Peter Johnson


The Scoop: In the tone of Rescue Me; follows the lives of uniform cops in the toughest precinct in NYC.
Studio: Sony and Apostle
Executive producers: Peter Tolan, Michael Chernuchin, Denis Leary, Jim Serpico


The Scoop: Epic fantasy about a man who travels back in time to recalibrate events in people’s lives, while trying to manage his own life and loves in the past and present
Studio: Twentieth Television
Executive producer: Kevin Falls


The Scoop: Offbeat drama about an ex-cop (Damien Lewis) who rejoins the force after having spent years wrongly imprisoned.
Studio: NBC Universal TV Studio
Executive producers: Rand Ravich, Farr Shariat


The Scoop: Trio of power-hungry, rich women will do anything in their power to maintain their status in New York City. Based on Candace Bushnell’s novel
Studio: NBC Universal TV Studio
Executive producers: DeAnn Heline, Eileen Heisler, Candace Bushnell


The Scoop: Produced by Tom Fontana (Homicide) and directed by Spike Lee; a surprising and unlikely everyman becomes mayor of New York.
Studio: NBC Universal TV Studio
Executive producers: Tom Fontana, Barry Levinson


The Scoop: From producers of House, light drama with procedural elements centering on a female cop (Famke Janssen)
Studio: NBC Universal TV Studio
Executive producers: David Shore, Peter Blake

As of 1/31, source: NBC