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Fox shops at ‘Mall’

Net buys mocku spec pilot from Regency

Fox’s pre-Christmas comedy shopping list includes a trip to “The Other Mall.”

Regency Television is developing the unconventional laffer, a Christopher Guest-like half-hour that began life as a spec pilot created by three vets of Spike TV reality skein “The Joe Schmo Show.” Fox has now greenlit production on another short pilot presentation, as well as the writing of a full pilot script.

“Schmo” helmer Danny Salles (“My Big Fat Obnoxious Fiance”) and thesps David Hornsby (“Six Feet Under”) and Lance Krall (“The Downer Channel”) co-created “Mall,” shooting the pilot presentation for less than $1,000. Susan Dickes (“Just Shoot Me”) will serve as exec producer on the project, with Salles helming. In addition to Hornsby and Krall, cast for the pilot presentation included “Joe” vet Ralph Garman.

Red state-friendly “Mall” is set in an aging Midwest shopping Mecca — not the big, shiny mall where the yuppies shop (think L.A.’s the Grove), but the other mall that’s been around for 30 years and has seen its best days.

Skein will follow a young go-getter (Hornsby) who’s put in charge of the mall after it’s sold to a big corporation. “He’s got these big ideas to turn this mall around, and he has six months to relaunch it,” Salles said.

Like “The Office,” skein will use an unseen film crew to document the goings-on in the mall. That includes following the many wacky retailers left in the mall, including the knick-knack kiosk known as Joanie Loves Tschotskes.

“It’s a modern day television mockumentay with the feel of a reality show, like ‘The Restaurant,’ where you follow someone trying to make something over,” Hornsby said.

Thesp/co-creator said he and his colleagues decided to set the show in a mall because it’s a place that “would appeal to everyone,” rather than an insider-focused skein like “The Larry Sanders Show.”

Because of their reality roots and lack of scripted sitcom experience, the “Mall” co-creators didn’t want to take a chance on simply pitching an idea to studios and nets.

“We said, ‘Let’s just make it,’ ” Salles said. “We didn’t want to stress about the writing (or development).”

Added Hornsby: “Because we’re basically a motley crew, this wouldn’t have sold if we just pitched it around as an idea.”

The “Mall” team spared every expense to make the pilot presentation. They borrowed video equipment; had actors work for free; made some of their own costumes; and edited the entire project on their home computers using Final Cut Pro. They even avoided location charges by “shooting in malls without permission until the security guard would kick us out,” Salles said.

Regency TV topper Robin Schwartz was one of the first studio chiefs to see the “Mall” pilot presentation.

“In less than 10 hours, we called up William Morris (which packaged the project) and said, ‘We want it. This is a show,’ ” Schwartz said. “For them to actually go and shoot this was the (right) idea. They needed to take this extra step, and it worked.”

Regency then set up the project at Fox, which has asked for just a few changes as the new pilot presentation is shot.

While TV nets and studios have been wary of spec projects in recent years, that attitude is changing, especially as nets hunger for new comedy hits. It doesn’t hurt that this year’s biggest success story — “Desperate Housewives” — was written on spec.

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