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Nets prep flight plans with pilots on tarmac

NBC getting solid buzz on star vehicles

With one week left before the Big Six nets begin unveiling their new fall skeds, a clearer picture of which pilots have a shot of snagging a greenlight has started to emerge.

Much can change between now and May 12, when NBC kicks off the annual upfront presentations to advertisers in New York.

A last-minute thumbs-up from the Bob Wrights and Michael Eisners of the world can send the cast of this week’s seemingly ice-cold comedy pilot scrambling to pack for Gotham. Likewise, a batch of negative audience testing can move today’s can’t-miss contender to the also-ran list faster than you can say “midseason replacement.”

Still, a survey of network execs and agency insiders shows a consensus starting to build about which would-be skeins seem to have landed in the finals of this year’s pilot derby.

Since NBC goes first, it’s no surprise buzz about the Peacock’s pilots seems most solid.

Net has settled on about a half-dozen comedy contenders and a quartet of drama possibilities, many of them vehicles for well-known stars.

Execs happy at NBC

And for a change, Peacock suits won’t have to force on the fake smiles when telling Madison Ave. buyers that they’re pleased with this year’s batch of new comedies. This year, that statement might actually prove true.

Leading the buzz parade on the yuks side: The remake of the BBC smash sexcom “Coupling” and the John Larroquette/Christine Baranski starrer “Happy Family.” Both seem all but certain of getting series orders.

Peacock execs are also high on a pair of projects from Carsey-Werner-Mandabach starring Tracy Morgan and Whoopi Goldberg.

Morgan laffer — which also lists NBC Studios, SNL Studios and 3 Arts as producers — has the “Saturday Night Live” star as a Ralph Kramdenesque mechanic. Goldberg plays an ex-diva turned hotel operator.

Heather Locklear starrer “Once Around the Park” is also on the Peacock hot list, as is the Annie Potts/Timothy Busfield-led family comedy “Stuck in the Middle with You.”

NBC execs also like “Come to Papa,” a “Seinfeld”-like half-hour starring standup Tom Papa. It seems headed for midseason rather than fall, however.

On the drama side, the Alicia Silverstone romantic dramedy “Miss Match,” from exec producers Darren Star and Jeff Rake, seems a sure bet for a series order. Peacock brass are also fond of Rob Lowe starrer “Lyon’s Den,” producer Gary Scott Thompson’s “Las Vegas” and studio head-turned-producer Kerry McCluggages’ “Homeland Security.” It would be a surprise if NBC picked up more than two dramas for fall.

Over at ABC, there’s also good comedy buzz, leading with “Platonically Incorrect.”

The sitcom, which stars Tom Everett Scott and A.J. Langer as platonic best friends, has been described as a straight “Will & Grace.” Show could potentially work as a strong companion to returning adult-leaning comedies such as “Less than Perfect.”

“Hope” has hope

Meanwhile, the grapevine also has good things to say about “Hope & Faith,” particularly given its solid leads, Kelly Ripa and Faith Ford. Laffer stars Ripa as a washed-up soap star who moves in with her housewife sister, played by Ford.

Also hot on the trail in comedy is the untitled Dan Finnerty project, also known as the “Dan Band” project, which stars Finnerty as a working class guy who winds up leading a cabaret show.

Also generating laughs: the “Notting Hill”-like Henchy/Pennette project, also known as “I’m with Her,” starring Teri Polo; “These Guys,” which is narrated by Tim Allen; and Michael J. Fox’s “Hench at Home,” which stars Craig Bierko and Fox’s wife, Tracy Pollan.

On the drama side, buzz seems to be heaviest around “Karen Sisco,” based on the female federal marshal character in the feature “Out of Sight.” Also creating some noise: “The D.A.,” about a district attorney (Steven Weber) who winds up teaming with a private investigator.

And then there’s “The Flannerys,” about a big-time lawyer who readjusts his life and decides to open a small practice in a shopping mall. “The Partners,” from Touchstone, has also received good notice. Drama pilot revolves around a pair of female undercover detectives.

Fox, meanwhile, has already picked up two shows for what the net now refers to as its year-round sked: Sudser “The O.C.” and eccentric hour “Wonder Falls.”

Other hours generating heat include the Keyser/Lippman drama “No Place like Home,” Steven Bochco’s “NYPD 2069” and the actioner “True Calling.”

On the comedy front, buzz continues to build for Molly Shannon starrer “Cracking Up,” boasting an all-star behind the scenes lineup of producers — including Mike White, the Weitz brothers and Brad Grey. Ditto for scribe Mitch Hurwitz’s “Arrested Development”; “Senor White,” from scribe Al Higgins and helmer Betty Thomas; and, perhaps for midseason, the Norm Macdonald starrer “A Minute with Stan Hooper.”

CBS always keeps a tight lid on its development process, making early speculation something of a crapshoot.

Eye catches “Cold”

Still, Jerry Bruckheimer looks ready to cement his status as the Eye’s Dick Wolf with tentatively-titled femme detective skein “Cold Cases.” There’s also positive talk about out-there hour “Joan of Arcadia”; the Joey Pants crime starrer “Street Boss” and the female buddy cop drama “Partners in Crime.”

Comedy-wise, Eye suits seem impressed by the Nicole Sullivan laffer, the Jamie Tarses-produced “Crazylove” and Chuck Lorre’s “2 1/2 Men,” starring Charlie Sheen.

Over at the WB, the call of the jungle is loud and clear for “Tarzan and Jane,” which leads the Frog’s list of drama hotties. Basketball-themed hour “One Tree Hill,” a new take on “MacGyver” and an Aaron Spelling-produced family drama also have buzz.

Yukking it up on the comedy front, Frogheads seem certain to greenlight a half-hour starring Anthony Anderson (“Barbershop”); Adam Sandler-produced “The Mayor,” Holly Robinson Peete starrer “Like Family” and teen laffer “Exit 9” also are looking good.

Buzz was less clear over the weekend at UPN, which was still in the process of screening pilots.

Nonetheless, safe bets include the comedy “All of Us,” given its auspices — Will Smith and Jada Pinkett Smith. Also on the list, partly because of its big-name star, is “The Opposite Sex.” Rapper Eve stars in the romantic comedy as a clothing designer.

On the drama side, the untitled Nanobot project — now known as “Jake 2.0” — appears to have the most momentum, perhaps because of its obvious potential behind existing sci-fi entry “Enterprise.” Also hot are Aaron Spelling’s new take on his “Hotel” franchise, as well as Joel Silver’s “Newton.”

UPN insiders, however, say everything’s still in play at the netlet.

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