Development execs in a tizzy after fall's unexpected hits

That loud screech you heard this month? Imagine a racetrack crowded with drama development execs, all abruptly switching gears at once.

In the race to come up with the next big procedural hit (a la “CSI” and “Law & Order”), no one saw the mega-openings of ABC’s new drama hits “Desperate Housewives” and “Lost” coming.

Now, just as they were about to finish buying scripts for next season, drama execs have made a U-turn and added a few more quirky female dramas and big-concept thrillers to the development mix.

“There’s always that Oct. 1 curveball that comes in, when everybody suddenly looks for the opposite of what they had been after,” says 20th Century Fox TV drama chief Jennifer Nicholson Salke.

By October, of course, development execs finally have a chance to digest what’s hot and what’s not. And although procedurals are by no means cold, webheads can’t help but take into account the excitement over “Housewives” and “Lost.”

As a result, nets and studios are taking a second look at projects they may have passed on earlier in the year, hoping to capture some of what made “Housewives” so appealing.

NBC and 20th took it one step further, redeveloping the 7-year-old Todd Holland/John Riggi script “Five Houses,” a single-camera comedy about families living in a Los Angeles cul-de-sac.

Meanwhile, other webs that have bought most of their scripts for the year admit they’re suddenly hungry for more hefty dramas in the vein of “Lost” and USA’s “The 4400.” Those high-concept shows were easily marketed like major motion-picture openings — and viewers were hooked.

“The word right now is ‘eventize,’ ” says ICM’s Matt Solo. “People want pitches and projects that can be turned into events, and promoted as being really different.”

ABC Entertainment exec VP Francie Calfo says it’s clear everyone is now looking for the next show in the vein of “Lost” — even her own net.

“We have three or four scripts in the miscellaneous pile that we think are big ideas, out there and different,” she says.

And so goes another development season in TV land, where drama execs are at least encouraged by the success of several new hourlongs, both procedural and not.

Development execs were pretty targeted in what they wanted this season:

  • Hot were scripts that took place in the world of the military — either on base, through the work of special forces or inside the government. David Mamet and Shawn Ryan have a Delta Force-themed script at CBS, while Jerry Bruckheimer is going inside the Pentagon for NBC.

  • Inspired by Los Angeles’ go-go housing market, networks also picked up several scripts set in the world of real estate. ABC has the Steve Pearlman/Silvio Horta entry “Westside,” while Fox has an untitled one from Brad Grey TV — and even HBO has one in the works, from thesp Stephen Dorff.

  • Larger-than-life characters working in unusual fields, a la FX’s “Nip/Tuck.”

“If I had a dollar for every time ‘Nip/Tuck’ was referenced, including out of my own mouth, I wouldn’t need my job anymore,” Salke says.

  • More sudsers, partly inspired by the success of “The OC” and “One Tree Hill,” as well as an overall dearth of primetime soaps in recent years.

“It’s an area we didn’t feel was on TV at the moment,” says NBC Universal TV Studios co-prexy Angela Bromstad.

  • Confused twentysomethings trying to figure out their lives — a la Herskovitz/Zwick’s “1/4life” at ABC.

  • And of course, in a world where viewers can’t get enough “CSI” and “Law & Order,” it’s no surprise network and studio development execs spent most of their summer chasing down the next round of procedural dramas.

Gritty homicide detectives? Check. Tough-as-nails prosecutors? You betcha. Forensics experts? Uh-huh.

ABC and Fox, in particular were hungry (and still are) to find their own self-contained procedural drama to keep up with CBS and NBC.

“It’s no easy task when all of these successful ones are already on the air,” Calfo says.

The twist this year: Procedurals with strong characters attached. Alphabet’s procedural mix, for example, includes a legal drama based on the life of Houston assistant D.A. Kelly Siegler, and “Sixth Borough,” about a father and son on the Jersey City police force.

Nets also went gaga over procedurals that look through the eyes of criminals, like NBC’s Shane Salerno script “Criminal Behavior” or Josh Berman’s serial-killer project at Fox.

Of course, the triumph of “Desperate Housewives” and “Lost” now has webheads rethinking their needs — and everyone out pitching copycats.

“The trend right now is everyone calling us and saying, ‘We’ve got your perfect companion for “Desperate Housewives,” ‘ ” Calfo says.

But that doesn’t mean the end of procedurals — after all, the launch of “CSI: NY” proved once again that the appetite for such shows is insatiable.

“You will always have a procedural,” Bromstad says. “It’s just time for something new and shiny as well. You need a mix, a more diverse slate.”

As for comedy, it’s still too early to sniff out many trends, as webheads are still in the middle of ordering scripts.

But things appear slightly more chaotic than in the drama world, as nets try just about anything — quirky single-camera shows, traditional multicamera sitcoms and everything in between — to resuscitate a still-moribund genre.

“There’s no formula to success, so let’s just develop a wide variety of shows,” one exec says.

All of the networks appear to be willing to try more out-of-the box ideas, however, such as Fox’s Chris Elliot comedy.

“Let’s have some fun, shake things up a bit,” Calfo says. “Our real focus is how to revolutionize today’s comedy. We’ll continue to go after and find people who have something to say.”

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