Network makes dramatic move with 'Undercovers' pickup

There’ll be a lot of drama at NBC next season. Frosh drama series, that is.

NBC’s 2010-11 sked is coming into sharper focus this week as execs start to zero in on pilot pickups. The Peacock’s formal group exec screenings of pilots get under way in earnest Wednesday, but the net gave an official greenlight Monday to Warner Bros. TV’s “Undercovers,” the spy romancer co-written by J.J. Abrams and Josh Reims. News of the order came as no surprise, as the project has been red-hot ever since it was auctioned off as a spec script late last summer ( Daily Variety , May 3).

There’s chatter that the Peacock may order one or two more projects this week — with a half-dozen hourlong prospects high on the list. “Chase,” a fugitive-hunt procedural from the Bruckheimer TV shop and WBTV, David E. Kelley’s legal ensembler “Kindreds” and the redo of “The Rockford Files” are said to be locks. The conspiracy thriller “The Event” has been gaining steam in recent days, and key execs are known to have fallen for the romantic anthology series “Love Bites.”

The Peacock’s comedy pickup picture is not quite as clear. Workplace laffer “Outsourced” is informally scouting for staff writers, which is always a good sign. The relationship-driven “Perfect Couples,” Paul Reiser’s “Next” and family-driven “This Little Piggy” all remain high on the radar. Matthew Broderick’s “Beach Lane” is said to need some body and fender work overall, but his perf is said to be strong enough (and more importantly, funny enough) to keep it a serious contender.

The bulk of NBC’s pilot orders will likely hit at the end of next week along with the rest of the broadcast nets, a few days in advance of the upfront presentations that begin May 17 in Gotham when NBC and Fox unveil their skeds.

With “Undercovers” now official, the speculation turned to where the show might land on the Peacock’s sked. The series, which revolves around married CIA agents who are reactivated after years in retirement, is said to be suitable for 8 p.m., which spurred chatter that NBC might give it the lead-off slot on Monday.

Stars Boris Kodjoe (“Resident Evil: Afterlife”) and Gugu Mbatha-Raw (“Bonekickers”) are in the fresh-faced and super-sexy mold of past Abrams’ discoveries like Jennifer Garner and Keri Russell — meaning that they will be a magnet for media attention leading up to the launch, which could allow “Undercovers” to be a self-starter on Monday, possibly paired with “Chuck” and what is expected to be the swan-song season of “Heroes.”

The importance of “Undercovers” to the Peacock — which is in reconstruction mode after suffering the effect of cutting its R&D spending on programming during the past few seasons — was underscored by Monday’s announcement, which came from NBC Universal TV Entertainment chairman Jeff Gaspin as well as NBC/Universal Media Studios primetime prexy Angela Bromstad.

“We have tremendous confidence in this promising series and feel this is a great way to kick off our upcoming upfront development announcements,” Gaspin said in a statement. “J.J. has delivered another signature series.”

Gerald McRaney, Jessica Parker Kennedy, Carter MacIntyre and Ben Schwartz co-star in “Undercovers.” Abrams, Reims and Bryan Burk are exec producers.

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