The Usual Suspects

If a show branded "risky" succeeds, it's a double triumph. Creating a hit is hard; parlaying no-name talent into stars is a feat. Which may explain why networks feel safer with presold talent.

This year's development slate is chock full of A-list names. (For a full list, see page 48.) David E. Kelley and Steven Bochco are still hustling pilots, and TV favorites Heather Locklear, John Stamos, Jennifer Love Hewitt, John Goodman, Jane Krakowski, Rob Reiner, Rob Lowe, and Tim Daly have landed roles in this year's crop. Also, stars are going behind the camera. Friends' Lisa Kudrow and David Schwimmer are trying to make the transition from talent to executive producer.

It's still early, but the buzz has begun.

NBC gets credit for developing its riskiest slate in years. Hollywood chatter centers on three high-profile shows: Joey, The Office: An American Workplace, and the computer-animated Father of the Pride. Insiders also like The Friendlys, from the creators of FX's Lucky,
starring Julie Bowen and Ana Gasteyer. The Peacock, however, needs comedies.

Only the returning Scrubs
is working on Tuesdays: Whoopi,
Happy Family, Good Morning, Miami,
and The Tracy Morgan Show
are on the bubble. Whoopi
has the strongest chance of returning. Thursday is down to two comedies from four, with Friends going away and The Apprentice
expected to stay in the 9 p.m. slot. Overall, NBC is looking at 15 possible comedies.

Insiders say NBC's drama slate looks solid, but the network has room for only a few. Six are in development, including Law & Order 4, which won't appear on the schedule until midseason at the earliest. Airport drama HUB, with top-notch stars Heather Locklear and Blair Underwood, is a strong contender. Possible drama slots are Wednesdays at 8 p.m. and Sundays, Mondays, and Fridays at 10 p.m.

CBS has the fewest slots to fill of any broadcast network, making competition for space intense. Reducing the space even further is that CSI: NY
is guaranteed one of the few available spots. Still, observers say family sitcom Center of the Universe, with John Goodman, is looking strong, as is the untitled Jason Alexander project, based on the life of Washington Post
sports columnist Tony Kornheiser and co-starring The Cosby Show's Malcolm-Jamal Warner. CBS has scant need for new dramas, but private-eye show The Webster Report, with Stanley Tucci, is getting raves. Insiders also say Eyes, in which Tim Daly leads a staff of unconventional, high-tech investigators, looks promising.

Even though ABC has had a rough month, several of its pilots are getting positive word of mouth. Drama Desperate Housewives, starring Teri Hatcher and Felicity Huffman, "is brilliant," says one studio executive, and Steven Bochco's crime drama Blind Justice, starring Ron Eldard, also has a good shot at getting picked up. David E. Kelley's The DeMarco Affairs, about sisters who inherit their parents' wedding-planning business, has people talking.

As for ABC's comedies, observers like Jessica Simpson's turn as Jessica Sampson, a pop star turned TV reporter, Jennifer Love Hewitt's role as a sports reporter and single mom, and John Stamos as a single man on a never-ending first date. Former Time
columnist Joel Stein's show is coming in strong. The plus for producers selling pilots to ABC: There are plenty of slots to fill.

Fox has already placed its bets, having announced its summer schedule two weeks ago. Contenders for later in the season: Ricochet, in which police investigate a crime in reverse time; The Inside, about FBI agents who infiltrate a high school to bust a drug ring; and House, a medical mystery show. Among the five animated pilots Fox is developing, The Phil Hendrie Show
seems to be the front-runner. All are slugged for midseason.

The WB is excited about Jack & Bobby. "Matt Long is a star," gushed network executives after seeing the pilot, from Everwood
creator and Dawson's Creek
co-executive producer Greg Berlanti. Long plays Jack McAllister, older brother to Bobby, played by Logan Lerman, who is destined to become president. "You pray for pilots that good," says one WB executive.

With Jack & Bobby
likely to get a slot on The WB's schedule, the competition tightens for the network's other four drama pilots: Dark Shadows, The Robinsons: Lost in Space, Prodigy, and The Mountain. Early buzz is good on The Mountain, starring Oliver Hudson, and The Robinsons, but The WB will have limited room for new dramas next year. Charmed, 7th Heaven, Everwood, Gilmore Girls, One Tree Hill, and Smallville
were all renewed. Wednesdays and Sundays at 9 p.m. are open, but the network is expected to revamp its standard schedule—dramas Sunday through Wednesday, comedies Thursday and Friday—next season.

On the comedy front, The WB has more space to fill, with only Reba
and Grounded for Life
likely to return. Possible repeats are What I Like About You
and The Jamie Kennedy Experiment, while Steve Harvey's Big Time, All About the Andersons, Like Family, Run of the House, and The Help
are on the bubble. One big clue: Like Family's Holly Robinson Peete, Run of the House's Joe Lawrence, and The Help's Tori Spelling have all been cast in pilots for other networks.

At UPN, The Bad Girl's Guide, starring real-life bad girl Jenny McCarthy, would be a good fit, say programming sources. Also, a One on One
spinoff, currently called Cuts
and starring American Pie's Shannon Elizabeth, will probably appear on UPN's schedule. So will the draws: Vanessa Williams has been cast in workplace drama Beck and Call, and Taye Diggs stars in legal drama Kevin Hill, executive-produced by Mel Gibson's Icon Productions.

Paige Albiniak

Contributing editor Paige Albiniak has been covering the business of television for nearly 25 years. She is a longtime contributor to Next TV, Broadcasting + Cable and Multichannel News. She concurrently serves as editorial director for entertainment marketing association Promax. She has written for such publications as TVNewsCheck, The New York Post, Variety, CBS Watch and more. Albiniak was B+C’s Los Angeles bureau chief from September 2002 to 2004, and an associate editor covering Congress and lobbying for the magazine in Washington, D.C., from January 1997-September 2002.