Frog leaps upfront

Net orders 'Everwood,' ramps up 'Bynes'

HOLLYWOOD — The WB is getting a head start on next week’s upfront crush, giving an early pickup to the Warner Bros. TV-produced drama pilot “Everwood.”

In addition, the Frog has given WBTV and Tollin-Robbins Prods. the go-ahead to begin staffing on “The Amanda Bynes Project.” If the skein doesn’t get picked up, the net will cover the studio’s staffing costs.

While nets occasionally give series commitments to projects at the script stage, it’s unusual for a completed pilot to get a fall series order in advance of the traditional May upfront announcements in Gotham. Execs usually prefer to have as much wiggle room as possible when they go behind closed doors to set their fall schedules.

With “Everwood,” which stars Treat Williams as a big city brain surgeon who moves to a small town following his wife’s untimely death, Frogheads saw an advantage in announcing the skein’s pickup before the May 13-16 slew of schedule announcements.

“We knew this was a show we wanted on our fall schedule,” WB Entertainment prexy Jordan Levin told Daily Variety. “It’s one of the strongest pilots we’ve ever seen, and hopefully (the early pickup) will allow ‘Everwood’ to push out of the pack and into the public eye.”

More importantly, the advance order means “Everwood” exec producer Greg Berlanti can begin looking for and hiring writers for the skein.

“Greg is going to hit the ground running,” said WBTV prexy Peter Roth. “Staffing is such a frenzied and competitive business this time of year, and even a week gives us an advantage.”

Roth also praised the WB’s early show of support, calling it “a bold and strong statement on the part of Jordan and everyone at the WB of their support and belief in the show.”

The WB has a long track record of creating pre-upfront buzz for its dramas.

Four years ago, the net sent critics and reporters elaborately packaged screeners of a pilot contender called “Felicity,” weeks before the show was officially ordered. As a result, journos and ad buyers were already talking up the skein before any of the fall skeds had been announced.

Frog also carefully orchestrated the midseason launch of sudser “Dawson’s Creek,” establishing its pretty young cast as stars before the first episode aired.

Levin said “Everwood” can use an extra push since the skein isn’t a high-concept, easily promotable hour — unlike last season’s young Superman skein “Smallville” or this year’s fall contender “Birds of Prey.”

What’s more, “We didn’t feel we were undermining any of our other pilots under consideration by ordering this now,” Levin said. “It can play in a multitude of timeslots.”

Buzz last week had “Everwood” a lock for the 9 p.m. Monday slot following “7th Heaven.” Levin said that scheduling makes sense but that no decisions will be made until later this week.

“It could also play as a companion to ‘Gilmore Girls’ or ‘Dawson’s Creek,’ ” he said. An 8 p.m. Thursday slot is also a possibility.

One key factor in where “Everwood” lands is the fate of Frog vet “Angel.” Despite solid ratings this season, Levin conceded the skein is not a lock to return next fall.

He also said the net has talked to 20th Century Fox TV about picking up a retooled version of ABC’s “Dharma & Greg,” which is all but certain to be axed by the Alphabet next week. New take on the skein would have the show’s title characters playing parents to a teen adoptee.

Berlanti (“Dawson’s Creek”) and Mickey Liddell (“Go”) are exec producers of “Everwood.” Pilot was helmed by Mark Piznarski (“Once & Again”).