Networks countdown to upfronts

'Whisperer,' 'Scrubs' on the road to renewal

Who’s got the wind at their back as the Big Four and CW begin the seven-day countdown to upfront week?

The hot sheet of pilot contenders as of the weekend included projects featuring Alyssa Milano (ABC’s “Romantically Challenged”), Kim Raver (ABC’s “Inside the Box”), Courteney Cox (ABC’s “Cougar Town”), Julianna Margulies (CBS’ “The Good Wife), Jenna Elfman (CBS’ “Accidentally on Purpose”), Alex O’Loughlin (CBS’ “Three Rivers”) and Jackie Earle Haley (Fox’s “Human Target”).

Also, several bubble shows were closer to earning a reprieve from their respective networks over the weekend, as “Ghost Whisperer” scored a renewal at CBS, and “Scrubs” continued to look good for another year at ABC.

The Alphabet net, which presents its fall ’09 slate to advertisers on May 19, has already been getting down to business, handing out a pickup on Friday evening to drama “Flash Forward,” from ABC Studios and scribes Brannon Braga and writer-helmer David S. Goyer. Joseph Fiennes leads an ensemble cast in the time-bender centering on what happens after everyone in the world blacks out for two minutes and 17 seconds.

That reps the second new series order for the Alphabet net, which had also picked up the comedy “Modern Family” last week.

Beyond that, insiders continue to suggest that “Scrubs,” which wrapped its season last week with an episode that could have easily doubled as a series finale, will be back after all.

Also among Alphabet’s bubble shows, “Better Off Ted,” which has developed a following among TV critics, is looking good to return.

On the drama side, Jerry Bruckheimer is poised to land a skein about amateur gumshoes (“The Forgotten”) , while the TV news drama “Inside the Box,” starring Raver as an aggressive femme producer in D.C., has been gaining steam.

It doesn’t hurt that “Box,” written by former ABC News producer Richard Robbins, is exec produced by Shonda Rhimes.

Also considered strong contenders are murder mystery “Happy Town”; “Eastwick,” an adaptation of “Witches of Eastwick”; and the untitled legal ensemble from writer Dave Hemingson. “Empire State,” from “Grey’s Anatomy” exec producer Mark Gordon, is seen as a dark horse.

Comedy-wise, Cox’s “Cougar Town” is hot, as are Milano’s “Romantically Challenged” and Cedric the Entertainer’s cop comedy “The Law.”

The Kelsey Grammer starrer “Awesome Hank” is still in the mix, with some predicting an order. Lauren Graham starrer “Let It Go” was said to have mixed reviews but shouldn’t be counted out. Same goes for Patricia Heaton starrer “The Middle.”

CBS has had strong buzz for more than a week for its “NCIS” spinoff (which aired as a planted two-part pilot seg on April 28-May 5) starring LL Cool J, which many predict will air on Tuesdays in the fall, alongside the “NCIS” mothership with “The Mentalist” moving to 10 p.m.

Also earning strong marks at CBS is “Good Wife,” the femme defense attorney drama starring “ER” alum Margulies.

The verdict looks promising for another legal-driven vehicle, the untitled U.S. Attorney drama starring Melissa George and Jason Clark. Former “Moonlight” star O’Loughlin could be back on the Eye next season in “Three Rivers,” about organ transplant donors and recipients. The poll numbers for “House Rules,” which follows the frosh class of Congress as they acclimate to D.C., were moving in the right direction during the weekend. Also mentioned on some lists: “Eastmans.”

The Eye’s finally tally of drama pickups will hinge on its renewal decisions. It’s understood that CBS on Friday reached an agreement to bring “Ghost Whisperer” back for a fifth season, after speculation that the show might be on the move. CBS vet “Cold Case” is expected to return, but “Without a Trace” remains up in the air, and “The Unit” looks unlikely to squeak out another season.

Among comedies, CBS’ likes and dislikes were characteristically hard to read. It’s an open secret that execs are smitten with Elfman starrer “Accidentally on Purpose,” about a femme film critic who accidentally gets pregnant after a one-night stand with a younger man.

The heat for Jason Biggs starrer “Happiness Isn’t Everything,” written by Mitch Hurwitz and Jim Vallely, was easing up a bit during the weekend while a different buddy comedy that also has Hurwitz as an exec producer (but not writer), “Waiting to Die,” has begun to get some traction.

At Fox, the chatter over the weekend was the sudden push for “Brothers,” starring former NFL player and Fox gridiron commentator Michael Strahan.

Laffer “Sons of Tucson,” about a hustler who becomes dad to three rich brothers after their real father is sent up the river for a white-collar crime, remains a cinch for a spot on the sked, as does comicbook-derived fantasy drama “Human Target,” according to insiders. Drama “Past Life” has its fans at the net but is still considered a lukewarm contender.

Fox’s drama needs are especially light because it already has Ryan Murphy’s “Glee,” which will be sneaked after “American Idol” on May 19, ordered for next season. On the comedy side, Fox has the animated laffer “Cleveland” set for fall, while “‘Til Death” is also returning — but might sit on the bench until being called for active duty.

Fox also has a number of other animated projects at various stages of development; net probably won’t make a decision on those until summer.

At CW, the surprise last week was the cooling heat behind the 1980s-set “Gossip Girl” spinoff “Lily,” which airs tonight. Insiders insisted the spinoff is still a contender, but not as much of a sure thing as the “Melrose Place” redo, which is considered a lock.

CW is also expected to bite into the vampire genre by greenlighting drama “Vampire Diaries.” The net is expected to order at least one more new drama, and “Lily” is facing strong competish from the male-models-in-NYC vehicle “A Beautiful Life.”

Finally, word is that NBC is looking to add at least one more comedy, possibly an overhaul of the Bradley Whitford/Romany Malco buddy-cop entry “Off Duty.” NBC got a head start on its 2009-10 pickups of four dramas and two comedies with its “infront” presentation to advertisers last week (Daily Variety, May 5).

Over at the Alphabet, the “Flash Forward” greenlight wasn’t a surprise; the network has been teasing the show via a series of viral marketing spots during “Lost.”

That’s led most to assume that “Flash Forward” will bow in the fall to satisfy “Lost” fans as they wait for that show to return in January.

Show is based on the novel “Flash Forward” by Robert Sawyer. Goyer and Braga wrote the pilot, while Goyer also directed. Goyer, Braga, Vince Gerardis, Jessika Goyer, Marc Guggenheim and Ralph Vicinanza are exec producers; Guggenheim and Goyer will serve as showrunners.

Besides Fiennes, stars include Courtney B. Vance, Jack Davenport, Sonya Walger, John Cho, Brian O’Byrne, Zachary Knighton, Peyton List and Christine Woods.