Networks pack pickups

Fox nabs ' 'Fringe,' 'The Inn'

It may be an unusual year for the network biz, but web execs have spent the weekend doing what they always do in the days before upfront week: weighing skedding plans and handing out pilot pickups and pinkslips.

Fox brass were particularly busy during the weekend, giving greenlights to comedies “The Inn” and the animated “Class Dismissed” (previously titled “Sit Down, Shut Up”). On the drama side, Fox picked up J.J. Abrams’ two-hour pilot “Fringe.”

Another drama project that has yet to be shot, the two-hour pilot “Virtuality,” shot up on Fox’s radar during the weekend by setting Peter Berg as its director and an exec producer.

Fox also gave a third-season renewal to Brad Garrett comedy “Til Death” but gave the ax to the frosh Kelsey Grammer-Patricia Heaton starrer “Back to You.”

ABC, meanwhile, gave the nod to a fifth season of David E. Kelley’s dramedy “Boston Legal.” “Legal’s” fate had been wrapped up in the negotiations over another Kelley/20th Century Fox TV pilot, cop drama “Life on Mars,” which now looks good for a pickup though it will move to ABC Studios and Kelley is expected to bow out of the project (Daily Variety, May 7).

With few pilots actually shot, the picture on ABC’s pickup plans for the coming season is still very murky — and may still be so even after its Tuesday upfront presentation. Insiders said two of the net’s low-rated midseason entries were still in the mix for renewals, comedy “Miss Guided” and “Eli Stone.”

Alphabet has given a 13-seg order to unscripted skein “Opportunity Knocks,” from Ashton Kutcher’s Katalyst Prods. and reality shop 3 Ball Prods. Show, expected to land on ABC’s fall sked, finds producers going to contestants’ homes with wads of cash and various prizes, which contestants can win if they correctly answer a series of questions.

CW, which also reveals its lineup Tuesday, on Sunday gave a greenlight to reality skein “Stylista,” from Warner Horizon TV and “America’s Next Top Model” stewards Tyra Banks and Ken Mok. “Devil Wears Prada”-esque series revolves around a competish among 11 fashionistas to win an editorial post at Elle magazine.

As expected, CW also picked up CBS Paramount Network TV’s “Beverly Hills, 90210” spinoff, and ordered a third season of CBS Par’s sitcom “The Game.”

CW has tapped Jeff Judah and Gabe Sachs to serve as showrunners on the new “90210,” which originally came together with scribe Rob Thomas attached but Thomas departed a few weeks ago due to a multitude of other commitments.

The most surprising news out of CW is that the network has cut a deal with Media Rights Capital to take over the programming of its long-troubled Sunday night sked starting in the fall. MRC is on board to produce two comedies and two dramas for the block.

Word first trickled out late Thursday of CW’s plans to turn its Sunday over to an outside entity (Daily Variety, May 9) — but initial speculation centered on a deal with advertisers. MRC emerged Friday as the actual programmers for the block.

MRC will have a stake in ad sales, although CW’s sales team will still oversee that area. Tribune Broadcasting, which owns CW’s key affils, is also partnering with MRC in handling the block. MRC TV chief Keith Samples and Tribune Broadcasting prexy Ed Wilson are credited with hatching the idea and bringing it to CW.

Specific shows for the block will be announced at CW’s upfront Tuesday morning. MRC and Tribune stressed that the block would target adults 18-49, rather than the CW’s younger skew.

Fox kicked off the flurry of pickup activity late Friday with its order for “The Inn.” Multicamera comedy, starring Niecy Nash and Jerry O’Connell, is described as an “Upstairs, Downstairs”-esque vehicle set in a hip Gotham hotel.

“Inn” hails from scribe Abraham Higginbotham (“Arrested Development”), 20th Century Fox TV, Reveille and Principato-Young Entertainment. Its pilot was helmed by former “Arrested” star Jason Bateman.

Bateman is also part of the other comedy Fox embraced this weekend. “Class Dismissed,” from Sony Pictures TV and 20th Century Fox TV, is exec produced by Mitchell Hurwitz and features Bateman, Will Arnett and Henry Winkler and Nick Kroll among its voice cast. Toon vets Bill Oakley and Josh Weinstein have also been recruited as exec producers.

Drama “Fringe,” from Abrams’ Bad Robot and Warner Bros. TV, revolves around a young femme FBI agent who works with an offbeat scientist to tackle cases involving unexplained medical and scientific phenomena. Pilot was penned by Alex Kurtzman and Roberto Orci and helmed by Alex Graves. Skein’s cast includes Aussie thesp Anna Torv, Mark Valley and Joshua Jackson.

Sci-fi project “Virtuality” has been percolating at Fox for some time but production was waylaid by the writers strike. The sci-fi skein, penned by “Battlestar Galactica’s” Ronald Moore and Michael Taylor, revolves around a long-term NASA mission and a limitless world of virtual reality.

“Virtuality” hails from Universal Media Studios and Gail Berman & Lloyd Braun’s BermanBraun shingle. With Berg on board, his producing partner Sarah Aubrey will also be an exec producer and Berg’s Film 44 banner will co-produce.