Ready for Takeoff

Networks order pilots, many primed with star power

The networks are getting ready to place their bets. A sign they may be risk-adverse: Many of the upcoming comedies and dramas are rife with recognizable TV names. Here is an overview of how broadcast prime time is stacking up for fall and beyond.

NBC's drama slots are nearly full. Besides Law & Order: Trial by Jury, the fourth incarnation of the successful franchise, the network has ordered Pariah's Revelations, an eight-episode limited series, and picked up Paramount's Medical Mystery for next year.

Already on the boards: Warner Bros.' Joey, starring Matt LeBlanc in a spinoff of his Friends'character, a pilot NBC executives love, and DreamWorks'Father of the Pride, an animated series about a family of performing white lions, featuring the voices of John Goodman, Cheryl Hines (Curb Your Enthusiasm), and Carl Reiner. With both shows well under way, the network is expected to pick up only two or three more comedies.

"We feel NBC is in terrific shape, better shape than anyone—even us, candidly—would have predicted five months ago," says Jeff Zucker, president of the newly formed NBC Universal Television Group.

With Joey primed for the coveted Thursday 8 p.m. time slot, Thursday night is basically set, leaving holes on Tuesday at 8-9 p.m. and 9:30 p.m., with Scrubs or Will & Grace likely anchoring the night in Frasier's former spot, at 9 p.m.

Wednesday at 8 p.m. remains open. On Friday, at least one new show likely will join the lineup, currently scheduled with a two-hour Dateline into Third Watch at 10 p.m.

One caveat in looking at any potential network schedule: With year-round programming and time-period sharing, many time slots will be shared by several shows.

ABC hadn't placed any series orders at press time, but insiders say Steven Bochco's Blind Justice, starring Ron Eldard, is a lock. Other popular drama contenders: Touchstone's Desperate Housewives, a prime time soap, and Doing It (expect a name change), a teen drama in Seattle. Warner Bros.' Eyes, about a high-tech security firm, and Shonda Rhimes's Grey's Anatomy, set among young surgical residents, are strong possibilities.

As for comedies, shows starring John Stamos, Jessica Simpson, Jennifer Love Hewitt, and comedian Rodney Carrington top ABC's list. Savages, from Mel Gibson's Icon Productions, based on his experience raising five boys, also was popular with network execs.

CBS, as always, is trying to keep things quiet, but insiders say Center of the Universe, starring John Goodman, is the most popular sitcom among network chiefs. Warner Bros.' Saint Louie, Regency's Taste,and Warner Bros.'Aisha are all in the mix.

In the drama department, CBS placed a series order for CSI: New York and is reported to like Dr. Vegas, starring Rob Lowe; Practical Magic (formerly titled Sudbury); and The Webster Report, in which Stanley Tucci stars as an offbeat New York private investigator.

Fox favors Universal medical mystery House and Twentieth Century Fox's Point Pleasant, with Twentieth's The Inside still in play. Among comedies, two animated shows look good: Seth McFarlane's American Dad and Twentieth's still-untitled Phil Hendrie Project. Paramount's Related by Family also is popular at Fox.

On The WB front, drama pickups are done for fall. Jack & Bobby, a show about two brothers, one of whom becomes president, and The Mountain were ordered last week. Insiders say Regency comedy Shacking Up, executive-produced by Jamie Kennedy and starring Fran Drescher, has a good shot at making The WB's fall schedule.

At UPN, Icon's Kevin Hill, which stars Taye Diggs, is apparently a sure thing. Bad Girl's Guide, starring Jenny McCarthy, and Warner Bros.'Beck and Call are also getting good buzz.