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NBC picks up ‘Southland’ drama

Network mulls pilots before 'Infront' presentation

After days of pilot screenings, the heat seeking pilots at NBC include laffer “Community” and first-responder drama “Trauma.”

NBC execs spent Friday and Saturday zeroing in on a handful of new series pickups to present to advertisers at its “Infront” event in Gotham on Monday. During the weekend it became clear that the Peacock intends to focus much of its presentation on touting a small number of new prospects, and will leave decisions on the fate of other pilots and bubble shows, including “Chuck,” for at least another week.

That said, Warner Bros. TV got the nod late Friday for a 13-episode renewal of cop drama “Southland,” which has performed respectable since its bow last month as a late midseason entry.

NBC execs had already said that they would not unveil a full-blown schedule until the week of May 19, when the rest of the broadcast nets host their upfront presentations.

Biz insiders said that pickup and renewal conversations at NBC and other nets this year have been entirely about one thing: costs, and how much can be trimmed from budgets and license fees. The belt-tightening caused by the economic meltdown and the expectation that upfront ad coin will be down sharply this year has made the grueling process of negotiating series agreements that much more difficult, across the board.

Among NBC’s half-hour contenders, the show to watch for the past week has been Sony Pictures TV comedy “Community,” which stars Joel McHale as a guy who becomes part of an offbeat extended family after he enrolls in a community college course. Industry insiders said the show seemed to be a lock for a pickup.

Also high on the buzz radar is “100 Questions for Charlotte Payne,” from Universal Media Studios, which stars Sophie Winkleman as a young woman living in New York and using a dating service. It’s understood to be seen by some inside NBC as a next-gen “Friends.” Buddy cop comedy “Off Duty,” starring Bradley Whitford and Romany Malco, is also still kicking.

On the drama said, “Trauma,” UMS, is said to have screened well among NBC brass and is seen as a good fit with the network’s needs next season, when its drama real estate will shrink with the bow of “The Jay Leno Show” in the Monday-Friday 10 p.m. slot.

Peacock execs also remain supremely confident in the prospects for UMS/Imagine TV’s hourlong adaptation of 1989 pic “Parenthood,” even though that pilot was still filming as of the weekend.

“Community,” “Trauma” and “Parenthood” are expected to be shown off to the assembled advertisers on Monday. Leno’s new offering is also expected to be talked up, along with “Southland,” which has fared well with critics.

Meanwhile, during the weekend it became clear that NBC is negotiating a fifth-season pickup of laffer “My Name is Earl” with 20th Century Fox TV, even though it appeared the show was due for the ax from NBC just a few days ago.

Other returning shows that facing tough cost-focused renewal negotiations include “Medium,” from CBS Paramount, and UMS’ own “Law & Order,” which seems certain to get at least another 13-16 episode order if only to allow it to hit its 20-year milestone in 2010.

The fate of “Chuck,” the cult-fave dramedy from Warner Bros. TV, was said to be part of the larger conversation between Warners and NBC about “Southland” and the pilot from David E. Kelley, “Legally Mad.” The Kelley pilot reportedly had very mixed reviews from execs, but the feeling is that there’s potential in the premise and the cast, and there’s also a big penalty payment due if NBC does not order it to series.

Dick Wolf’s UMS femme detective pilot “Lost & Found” is also said to still be in the mix for a possible midseason order. There’s speculation in the biz that NBC will put a number of new and returning dramas on the bench as insurance against the possibility that the Leno show proves a ratings dud.

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