Upfronts: Pilot buzz in this Very Weird Year

It’s a very weird year. That’s what everyone in town keeps saying over and over again as the biz gears up for the annual upfront ritual, which will be a little less ritualistic this year.

Gone in this Very Weird Year is the time-honored way in which reporters get big hints on what pilots are getting picked up — by tracking the talent that is being flown in to New York.Damonwayans_2

As we all know, there are a whole lotta pilots that have not yet been shot and are just now setting casts. Most of the chatter, good and bad, about 2008-09 hopefuls this week has centered around the projects that the nets have in hand as pilots or presentations, or at least have significant thesps attached, a la ABC’s “Never Better,” which landed Damon Wayans (pictured right) as its lead last week.

So with the caveat that it is all spin and conjecture at this moment in time, let’s review the buzz out there.

ABC’s the hardest to read when it comes to new stuff.

On comedy front, Cedric the Entertainer (pictured left) vehicle (ABC Studios) seems to have traction — or not, depending on who you talk to!

“Bad Mothers Handbook” (ABC Studios), about three generations of femmes living Aliciasilverstone together, has not lensed but has the benefit of Alicia Silverstone (pictured right) and another high-profile name in the offing.

“My Brother’s Hot and Other Dilemmas” (ABC Studios) about a girl attracted to her new step brother, has Alyssa Milano (pictured left). It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to realize that either a Silverstone or Milano comedy vehicle could be a nice companion for ABC’s frosh hit “Samantha Who?” — assuming Alyssamilano that either pilot satisfies the larger obligation to actually be funny.

“Never Better” (ABC Studios) shot up on the radar after Wayans signed on and Marc Buckland signed on to direct.

Drama-wise at ABC … I just don’t know.

Only “Life on Mars,” offbeat time-travel cop drama, is in the can. David E. Kelley and Tommy Schlamme have bowed out of that project, they’re looking to move this from 20th Century Fox TV to ABC Studios and retool it under prospective showrunners Josh Appelbaum, Andre Nemec and Scott Rosenberg.

There’s been a lot of chatter in the biz that “Life on Mars” shuffle granted a reprieve to Kelley’s “Boston Legal” for another season. (Biz watchers with long memories will recall that two years ago, the same thing happened when ABC was hot for Kelley’s “Mars.”) But I’m hearing that “Boston Legal’s” fate also has a lot to do with Kelley and how involved he intends to be going forward, among other factors.

It seems a safe bet that “Women’s Murder Club” is headed for the morgue, though ABC is said to be anxious to stay in biz with star Angie Harmon. Midseason drama “Eli Stone” is said to be 50-50 for a sophomore year. And surprisingly, ABC is said to be considering a pickup for midseason comedy “Miss Guided.” Can’t swear to this but I heard the actors’ options have been extended for a few more weeks.

At CBS, it’s always a dangerous game trying to predict what Team Moonves is going to announce at Carnegie Hall on Wednesday. But some chatter about returning shows seems to be firming up.

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