Prime time is family time

The effects of Sept. 11 are reflected in many pilots in network hoppers
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This year's prime time development has two major themes: family programming and shows reflecting Sept. 11—that is, shows dealing with police, firemen, the military, government and the like. Some see those two themes as connected in the sense that Americans seemed to focus more on the importance of family in the wake of last year's tragic events.

That's the way Stacey Lynn Koerner sees it. According to Koerner, senior vice president, director of broadcast research, Initiative Media, of the 110 fall pilots in network hoppers, 52, or 47%, fall in that broader family/post-9/11–inspired category.

"This year's pilot topics are designed to resonate with viewers in a post-9/11 world," says Koerner. "Our focus has changed from self-consumed single yuppies to shows more about families and what we think is important in our culture."

ABC has been saying for a while it wants to get back to the family programming that was a key staple until it jettisoned its Friday-night TGIF lineup a few years ago.

Fox is big on family, too, in its own quirky way.

Most networks can point to a show or two that can be described as family. Koerner says five of the six broadcast networks that showed her pilot lineups (UPN the exception) have one or more family shows in the works. Pax TV, of course, is devoted entirely to family programming.

NBC Entertainment President Jeff Zucker is "very high" on a pilot starring Chevy Chase he describes as an updated My Three Sons, "only it's my three daughters."

Here are the broadcast nets' key needs:

  • CBS. Wednesdays and Fridays are the network's neediest nights, says Roy Rothstein, VP, director of national broadcast research, Zenith Media. The net didn't do its usual pilot presentation to agencies this year, but he notes it has had strong drama development in recent years and should improve its lot if the streak continues. CBS is in a strong position, he says, with 14 weekly wins this season and 11 of the top 25 shows.
  • NBC. Three key time periods—Tuesday 8 p.m. ET, Sunday 8 p.m. and Sunday 10 p.m. "Our needs are really minimal," says Zucker. "We're probably looking to fill three hours." Two will be dramas (he likesKingpin
    andWar Stories), plus the Tuesday comedy block.
  • ABC. ABC's needs are not minimal. Rothstein's take: a complete makeover for Thursday, most of one for Friday. The mission for Friday is a new 8-10 p.m. ET comedy block. ABC also needs a new hour each for Monday and Tuesday. A Wednesday-night overhaul wouldn't hurt either, Koerner adds. The good news: New family showsMy Wife and Kids
    andGeorge Lopez
    show signs of life.
  • Fox. Thursday, Friday and Sunday need major work. Tuesday and Wednesday need minor work.Ally's a question mark, and the signatureX-Files
    is going. But a new generation of shows is starting to click, includingBoston Public, Bernie Mac
    and 24. "Give Fox credit for being creative," says Rothstein.
  • The WB. The biggest need: Fix Sunday night. Poor performance that night has hurt the network's overall ratings this season. Thursday at 8 p.m. ET needs work. Friday needs comedies that would be anchored byReba; other current comedies there are expendable. Secondary needs: Monday, Wednesday and Thursday nights could each use a new hour, says Koerner.
  • UPN. Tuesday has a one-hour hole to fill, and Wednesday could use an hour as well.The Amazing Race
    fizzled, but look for more repurposing between UPN and co-owned CBS. Network hasn't revealed comedy development yet, but one of five drama pilots will replace just-canceledRoswell.
  • Pax. The net needs to continue to develop original shows for the weekend and is also looking for a new hour on Monday.

Following are pilots currently in development—at least all those the broadcast networks are admitting to right now.

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