Lee grapples with wealth of strong pilots

ABC Entertainment Group topper Paul Lee is grappling with a high-class problem: a wealth of strong drama pilots to chose from as he sets his first primetime sked for the Alphabet.

It’s understood that the ABC topper and his team are looking to get creative in the way shows are scheduled in order to allow the network to pick up a bumper crop of hourlongs (perhaps as many as half of its 12 pilots). The net unveils its sked May 18.

To get there, execs may push for efficiencies in production to bring budgets down (Lee does come from the cable world, after all). Down the road, ABC may move to explore nontraditional sources of financing and co-production partners to help the network shoulder programming costs.

The fantasy-mystery vehicles “Once Upon a Time,” “The River” and “Poe” are all said to have been well received by ABC brass, but there’s concern about the costs and whether the shows have the potential to cross over beyond genre fans. Same goes for period drama “Pan Am.”

The only question hovering over Darren Star sudser “Good Christian Bitches” is what to call the show, as the story of a divorced woman’s return to her hometown has been lauded up and down the halls of ABC as good bitchy fun with a great story engine (and raves for stars Leslie Bibb and Kristin Chenoweth).

The heat for “Bitches” sets the bar a little higher for competing soaps “Revenge” and “Hallelujah.” Marc Cherry’s “Hallelujah” has drawn mixed reviews but has gained steam in the last few days as some insiders argue that the show’s blend of soap and spirituality will play well in flyover country (plus stars Jesse L. Martin and Terry O’Quinn are said to impress).

There’s growing buzz about two projects that had been low on the radar: procedural “Identity” and family drama “Grace.” Both may benefit if ABC is cautious about fielding too many sudsers or too many fantasy-based projects.

The “Charlie’s Angels” redo has been a hot prospect from the start and shows no signs of cooling. Reactions to Shonda Rhimes’ “Damage Control” haven’t been as universally positive as those for some of the other projects but insiders believe it still has a bead on a fall or midseason timeslot.

ABC insiders acknowledged, however, that they don’t have the same embarrassment of riches on the comedy side. The untitled Tim Allen project and “Apartment 23″ are seen as locks. “Smothered,” “Bad Mom” and “Suburgatory” are contenders, with “Man Up” as a dark horse.

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