Buzz lifts pilots at Big Four

Hot prospects already emerging

Pilot screenings have begun in earnest at the broadcast networks this week. And while it’s still early in the process, a few hot prospects have emerged at the Big Four and CW, which will unveil their fall lineups during the week of May 16.

Ethan Hawke, Zooey Deschanel and Jaime Pressly can probably start packing their bags for Fox’s upfront. Minnie Driver is bound to make an appearance at Carnegie Hall for CBS’ presentation. NBC is high on Whitney Cummings’ couples comedy, the ambitious drama-within-a-tuner toplined by Debra Messing and Maria Bello’s turn in “Prime Suspect.” ABC is poised to send “Charlie’s Angels” on a new assignment and set Krysten Ritter up in a Gotham apartment.

Biz insiders caution that there are still a number of pilots that shot late and are being fine-tuned, so the what’s hot/what’s not picture won’t really firm up until next week.

Overall, ABC is said to be in the market for as many as four to five new dramas and the same number of comedies.On the drama side, the “Charlie’s Angels” redo has real momentum. So does Darren Star’s sudser “Good Christian Bitches,” Shonda Rhimes’ “Damage Control” and the fantasy-mystery “Once Upon a Time.” There’s also some good buzz for period piece “Pan Am” and the mystery-thriller “The River” from “Paranormal Activity” helmer Oren Peli.

Comedy-wise, the heatseekers at the Alphabet are the Ritter starrer “Apartment 23,” “Smothered” and “Bad Mom.” The untitled Tim Allen project remains a high-profile priority. “Suburgatory” also has its fans.

CBS, as always, is a tough nut to crack. More than any other net, the Eye prizes secrecy in its screening process. The comedy picture there is still murky, though it’s expected to invest in half-hours as it adjusts to the post-Charlie Sheen era of “Two and a Half Men.”

On the drama side, CBS can afford to be choosy given the strength of its sked. Minnie Driver starrer “Hail Mary” is known to be hot, as is police ensembler “Rookies.” The untitled Susannah Grant medical drama is said to be a favorite but may be in for some retooling. The reviews are so far mixed on the high-profile J.J. Abrams-Jonah Nolan collaboration “Person of Interest,” starring Michael Emerson and Jim Caviezel. A sleeper to watch is the untitled Ed Redlich-John Bellucci vehicle starring Poppy Montgomery, a former CBS regular who starred in “Without a Trace.”

At Fox, net execs are said to be swooning over Hawke’s CIA-set drama “Exit Strategy.”

The Kiefer Sutherland starrer “Touch,” from Tim Kring, seems to have a reserved spot on Fox’s 2011-12 sked, even though the pilot won’t shoot until summer while Sutherland completes his Rialto run in “That Championship Season.” The Lauren Ambrose starrer “Weekends at Bellevue” has come on strong in the past few days.

Fox’s more elaborate bets on fantasy-mystery vehicles, “Alcatraz” and “Locke and Key,” are surprisingly lukewarm even though by many accounts both pilots are creatively impressive. Word is that network brass are concerned about whether the projects are accessible enough to attract a broad aud or if they’d be akin to “Fringe,” which has a fanatical but limited fanbase.

The planted spinoff “The Finder,” which aired as a seg of “Bones” last month, has received mixed reviews so far but can’t be counted out. Word is they may lay some more track for the spin-off with another “Bones” episode featuring Geoff Stults.

Among half-hours, Deschanel is poised to join her sister, “Bones” star Emily Deschanel, on Fox, in the untitled show from scribe Liz Meriwether. Mike O’Malley domestic comedy “Family Album” has real heat, as does the Pressly-Katie Finneran starrer “I Hate My Teenage Daughter.”

The biz is eagerly awaiting the final verdicts at NBC. Word is that new NBC Entertainment boss Robert Greenblatt is looking for three to four comedies and four to five dramas.

A late entry into the mix for the Peacock is “The Firm,” an adaptation of the John Grisham novel that brings foreign financing through E1 Entertainment. Project was initially ordered by Sony Pictures TV’s networks group for overseas play on its AXN channel. Although no pilot has been shot, NBC is said to be close to finalizing a 22-episode commitment.

Among other dramas, “Smash,” featuring Messing in a Broadway-set ensembler, is red hot. The “Prime Suspect” redo with Bello has been well received, along with Don Johnson’s turn as a Los Angeles hairdresser in “A. Mann’s World.” Wildcard is the oater “The Crossing,” set in the post-Civil War era. There’s concern about how NBC would program and promote it. “The Playboy Club” has drawn mixed reviews but remains a contender.

Cummings looks to be doing a Tina Fey next season as creator-star of her own vehicle. NBC is also bullish on the Christina Applegate starrer from Emily Spivey and Lorne Michaels, and Laura Prepon’s take on Chelsea Handler in “Are You There Vodka, It’s Me, Chelsea?” Dark horses may be the Dan Goor project and Amanda Peet starrer “Bent.”

At CW, the loudest buzz is for “Secret Circle” and “Hart of Dixie.”