It's a very weird year. That's what everyone in town keeps saying over and over again as the biz gears up for the annual upfront ritual, which will be a little less ritualistic this year.
As we all know, there are a whole lotta pilots that have not yet been shot and are just now setting casts. Most of the chatter, good and bad, about 2008-09 hopefuls this week has centered around the projects that the nets have in hand as pilots or presentations, or at least have significant thesps attached, a la ABC's "Never Better," which landed Damon Wayans (pictured right) as its lead last week.
So with the caveat that it is all spin and conjecture at this moment in time, let's review the buzz out there.
ABC's the hardest to read when it comes to new stuff.
"Bad Mothers Handbook" (ABC Studios), about three generations of femmes living together, has not lensed but has the benefit of Alicia Silverstone (pictured right) and another high-profile name in the offing.
"My Brother's Hot and Other Dilemmas" (ABC Studios) about a girl attracted to her new step brother, has Alyssa Milano (pictured left). It doesn't take a rocket scientist to realize that either a Silverstone or Milano comedy vehicle could be a nice companion for ABC's frosh hit "Samantha Who?" -- assuming that either pilot satisfies the larger obligation to actually be funny.
"Never Better" (ABC Studios) shot up on the radar after Wayans signed on and Marc Buckland signed on to direct.
Drama-wise at ABC ... I just don't know.
Only "Life on Mars," offbeat time-travel cop drama, is in the can. David E. Kelley and Tommy Schlamme have bowed out of that project, they're looking to move this from 20th Century Fox TV to ABC Studios and retool it under prospective showrunners Josh Appelbaum, Andre Nemec and Scott Rosenberg.
There's been a lot of chatter in the biz that "Life on Mars" shuffle granted a reprieve to Kelley's "Boston Legal" for another season. (Biz watchers with long memories will recall that two years ago, the same thing happened when ABC was hot for Kelley's "Mars.") But I'm hearing that "Boston Legal's" fate also has a lot to do with Kelley and how involved he intends to be going forward, among other factors.
It seems a safe bet that "Women's Murder Club" is headed for the morgue, though ABC is said to be anxious to stay in biz with star Angie Harmon. Midseason drama "Eli Stone" is said to be 50-50 for a sophomore year. And surprisingly, ABC is said to be considering a pickup for midseason comedy "Miss Guided." Can't swear to this but I heard the actors' options have been extended for a few more weeks.
At CBS, it's always a dangerous game trying to predict what Team Moonves is going to announce at Carnegie Hall on Wednesday. But some chatter about returning shows seems to be firming up.
There was a lot of speculation regarding the fate of comedy "New Adventures of Old Christine," but consensus seems to be that it will return, if perhaps benched for the fall. Comedy "Rules of Engagement" is probably in the same boat.
Drama "The Unit" was very bubbly for a while but now seems to be on its way to a fourth season. James Woods starrer "Shark" is probably not going to see a third year. Frosh vampire drama "Moonlight" is said to be making plans for a second year.
On the comedy pilot front, there seems to be Friday afternoon heat on the Jay Mohr (pictured right) vehicle from scribes Ed Yeager and Ric Swartzlander (ABC Studios). Guy in his 30s, gets divorced and has to start dating again? Sure sounds like it could be Monday at 9:30 -- if it's good.
Also popping up on the chatter-meter is the project starring comedian Mike Birbiglia (pictured left) from scribe Andrew Secunda (CBS Paramount.)
On the drama side, the one to watch seems to be "Mythological Ex" (20th Century Fox TV), from scribe Diane Ruggiero, about a woman who's told by a tarot card reader that she needs to get hitched soon to a guy she's already known in her life.
"The Mentalist" (Warner Bros. TV) starring Simon Baker (pictured left), is also a safe bet. A dark horse may be the romantic dramedy "NY-LON" (ABC Studios) starring Elisha Cuthbert.
The picture at Fox is a little clearer for dramas than it is for comedies. There was much back and forth at the network on Friday about whether to pick up sitcoms "Back to You" and "Til Death." Word at day's end was that "Til Death" was looking good.
Hearing that the brass were hot and cold on granting "Back to You" a second season. ("Back to You" is officially axed.)
With one or both of those two back, and Seth MacFarlane's "Family Guy" spinoff "Cleveland" already in the works, Fox's appetite for half-hours may be a bit diminished.
Shows high on the radar at this moment seem to be the Bruce Helford-Bernie Mac (pictured right) "Starting Under" (Warner Bros. TV) and the animated "Sit Down, Shut Up" (Sony Pictures TV and 20th), from Mitch Hurwitz. Reaction to the "Starting Under" pilot has been mixed, but Fox execs are anxious to be in biz with Bernie Mac. "Sit Down," meanwhile, has already recruited seasoned toon showrunners Bill Oakley and Josh Weinstein.
Drama-wise, J.J. Abrams "Fringe" (Warner Bros. TV) is said to be prepping for a fall berth. Josh Whedon's "Dollhouse" (20th Century Fox TV) starring "Buffy" alum Eliza Dushku (pictured left), is likely for a January launch, probably in tandem with "24."
At the CW, the cinches for pilot pickups seem to be the "90201" spinoff (CBS Par Network TV) and the "How to Teach Filthy Rich Girls" (Warner Bros. TV). And the devil is expected to get his due with a pickup for the highly regarded frosh drama "Reaper." Bubble comedy "The Game" seems to have a decent shot at a renewal.