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What They’re Thinking About

Studios are rushing to crank out more than 120 pilots for the broadcast networks. Deadlines are tight: Fall schedules are announced the week of May 16.

Fewer than half of these projects will ever make it to prime time. In making their selections, the networks vowed to take risks this year. Based on the short descriptions for each program, it is tough to say which shows are truly original. But it is clear that imitation is still television’s sincerest form of flattery. Here is a look at the trends:


Every network wants the next Desperate Housewives or Lost. There is increased demand for soaps and tales from suburbia (about a dozen pilots), along with the supernatural (nine pilots, including an ABC revival of Night Stalker).

About a dozen “procedural” pilots (read: Law & Order or CSI) are being shot. Nine pilots are about married life or new romances. An equal number are about the challenges of divorce. Three involve the real estate industry, two are about lottery winners, and two dramas are set at fertility clinics (Fox’s Born & Bred and NBC’s Inconceivable).


CSI hitmaker Jerry Bruckheimer is working on five pilots: two for CBS, two for The WB and one for NBC. Lost producer J.J. Abrams is shaping three ABC dramas. And Tom Fontana (producer of Oz and Homicide) is supervising two pilots for CBS and one for The WB.


ABC: Entertainment President Steve McPherson is looking at four procedurals, at least three soaps and some 14 comedies (more than half about families).

Fox: New Entertainment President Peter Liguori is screening more than two dozen pilots ordered by his predecessor, Gail Berman. Two shows getting early buzz are Reunion (about the lives of a group of high school friends, with the one-hour episodes set about a year apart) and The Break, an action drama about brothers who plot a prison escape.

CBS: The network wants marquee names. Series stars include Henry Winkler, Stockard Channing, Julia Louis-Dreyfus and Dylan McDermott. Behind-the-camera stars include Will & Grace producer Kari Lizer and established names Barry Levinson, Tom Fontana and Bruckheimer. And playwright David Mamet will team with Shawn Ryan, creator of The Shield, to produce The Unit, about a government crime-fighting squad.

NBC: Rebound time. NBC has Dick Wolf, Lisa Kudrow and Lorne Michaels each producing new comedies. Entertainment President Kevin Reilly also has an eclectic mix of drama candidates. E-Ring from Jerry Bruckheimer is set at the Pentagon; Fathom documents an alien invasion of Earth.

The WB: New Entertainment President David Janollari is collecting top producers, too: the ubiquitous Bruckheimer, Steve Martin, Tom Fontana, Marta Kauffman, David E. Kelley, Marcy Carsey and Tom Werner, and Will & Grace producers David Kohan and Max Mutchnick.

UPN: Eleven pilots are on order: five comedies, five dramas and one reality show. Eye openers: Everybody Hates Chris, based on Chris Rock’s life as a teenager (he’ll do voiceovers), and sexy South Beach, produced by J-Lo.

Below and on the following pages is a sampling of pilots the networks are considering. For a more comprehensive list, go to