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Network pilots pick up steam

'Rockford,' 'Chase,' 'Hawaii' among hot projects

There are no sure things during pilot season — except J.J. Abrams’ “Undercovers.”

The spy-fy drama that Abrams co-wrote with Josh Reims is considered a lock for NBC’s 2010-11 schedule. The Peacock is poised to pickup as many as six dramas and four comedies as it looks to rebuild its primetime sked in the wake of last season’s “Jay Leno Show” fiasco.

Next week marks the ultimate crunch time for net execs as they huddle in groups for screenings of the pilots contending for primetime real estate next season. Some screening seshes were held this week, but with many pilots still being completed, the real scrutiny will start next week when execs have the broader selection to cue up. The Big Four nets and the CW will unveil their 2010-11 skeds at the upfronts in Gotham during the week of May 17.

As always, a few projects have enjoyed heat throughout the development derby. NBC is said to be putting out feelers for staff writers on its redo of “The Rockford Files,” which is a good sign the Peacock sees that pilot as a go, and “The Chase,” an actioner about federal marshals tracking down fugitives from the Bruckheimer TV shop. CBS’ new spin on “Hawaii Five-O” is also said to be scouting for staffers.

NBC is expected to pick up the most new shows — given its needs — while CBS has the high-class problem of having only a few open slots for frosh skeins.

NBC’s other drama contenders are said to be the David E. Kelley legal ensembler “Kindreds,” conspiracy thriller “The Event” and “The Cape,” about a former cop who becomes a masked superhero to clear his name. “Love Bites,” the romantic dramedy anthology, also has its fans at the net.

The Peacock comedies generating heat are Paul Reiser’s “Next,” workplace vehicle “Outsourced” (which sounds like a good fit with the rest of its workplace-centric Thursday comedy block), the relationship-centric “Perfect Couples” and family-rooted “This Little Piggy.” The early reviews have been mixed on Matthew Broderick starrer “Beach Lane” but it can’t be counted out, given the star power.

CBS is hard to read, given the cone of silence that execs at the Eye are under at this time of year when it comes to handicapping pilots. In addition to “Five-O,” CBS is said to be gravitating to the “Criminal Minds” spinoff starring Forest Whitaker and “Defenders,” starring Jim Belushi and Jerry O’Connell as flashy defense attorneys in Las Vegas. Dark horses on the drama side could be “ATF” and “Chaos.”

Insiders believe the “Criminal Minds” spinoff will likely be held for midseason, as CBS is already jampacked with its “CSI” and “NCIS” spinoffs.

Comedy-wise, it’s looking good for William Shatner’s next act as the irascible patriarch of “S**t My Dad Says,” inspired by the popular Twitter feed written Justin Halpern. “Mike and Molly,” from Chuck Lorre and “Two and a Half Men” scribe Mark Roberts, is said to be a virtual lock. “True Love” revolving around a group of friends in Gotham, has come on strong in the last few days.

Preferences at ABC are also still mostly unknown as net execs have not had many group screenings so far. Drama-wise, the chatter has centered on “Body of Evidence,” starring Dana Delany as a crusading medical examiner, the docu-styled cop show “187 Detroit” and “No Ordinary Family,” featuring Michael Chiklis as the head of a family that discovers it has superpowers. Shonda Rhimes’ “Off the Map,” about doctors in a tropical clinic, remains a contender.

“Family” in particular makes Disney execs giddy, as the project’s concept screams franchise — given its family appeal, sci-fi elements and potential to serve as an event-style series.

The comedies with buzz at the Alphabet include Matthew Perry starrer “Mr. Sunshine” and an untitled couples-centric entry from “Friends” scribe Shana Goldberg-Meehan. “It Takes a Village,” about a divorced couple and their new spouses raising a 15-year-old boy, has generated good reviews and is seen as a possible fit with ABC’s family-centric Wednesday block. And “Wright vs. Wrong” has some fans at the network — particularly given its strong femme cast (Debra Messing, Cheryl Hines, Carrie Fisher) — although the final cut is still in post-production.

Fox is laser-focused on fielding a few good live-action comedies next season. “Traffic Light,” revolving around three male friends, has heat, as does the single-dad vehicle “Keeping Hope Alive,” from “My Name is Earl” creator Greg Garcia. Also in the mix are office comedy “Breaking In,” starring Christian Slater, and “Running Wilde,” a reunion of Will Arnett and “Arrested Development’s” Mitch Hurwitz and Jim Vallely.

Leading the Fox drama pack is “Breakout Kings,” an actioner from the “Prison Break” team about ex-cons who team up with marshals to track down fugitives. Shawn Ryan’s Chicago-set cop drama “Ride-Along” has also been very well received. Legal thriller “Pleading Guilty” is also in the running, as is the con man drama “Midland” (although that drama’s dark themes may be more suitable for FX, some have suggested).

CW is looking at a maximum of three drama pickups. One of those slots is sure to go to “Nikita,” the redo of “La Femme Nikita.” The two other heatseekers are “Betwixt,” a fantasy vehicle about changelings tasked with saving humans, and “Hellcats,” which is seen as the CW’s stab at “Glee” but with cheerleaders.

(Michael Schneider contributed to this report.)

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