Net revs up drama pilot with a wink

USA has greenlit “Underfunded,” a series pilot from “Monk” scribe David Breckman and Ross Abrash (“Love & Money”).

Skein centers on a Canadian secret service agent and his less than high-profile org. Project is cast-contingent.

Exec VP of programming Jeff Wachtel described the hourlong as a spy thriller “viewed through this huge comic filter.”

“Underfunded” is one of two series pilots under consideration at the cabler. Other is feature scribe Steve Franks’ “Psych,” starring James Roday and Dule Hill, about a fake psychic detective (Daily Variety, June 17).

Much like USA’s top-rated hour “Monk,” both drama pilots are lighter and more comedic in nature than such past efforts as “Touching Evil” and “Peacemakers.” Wachtel said the move in that direction is strategic.

“We’re not doing this exclusively, but we think there is a real opportunity to go against the grain of what most broadcast and cable dramas are doing,” he said. “There’s a real dark tone to a lot of what’s out there — most of which is brilliantly executed — but we see it as a chance to go another way.”

Chances are slim, in fact, that the network will renew Ving Rhames drama “Kojak,” which took a decidedly more serious tone than the original 1973 series. Skein maintained modest ratings throughout its run, but didn’t reach the highs achieved by “Monk” and “The 4400.”

Breckman, the brother of “Monk” creator-exec producer Andy Breckman, has written for the sleuth hour for all four seasons. Before that, he worked on “Saturday Night Live.”

Abrash worked on “The Late Late Show With Craig Kilborn,” syndie series “Malibu, CA” and “SNL.”

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