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Wanted: Perfect partners for pilots

Networks juggle sked to help frosh shows

It’s a great time to be a TV pilot.

If you’re one of the eighty-something comedies and dramas in consideration for a spot on the 2012-13 primetime sked, a plethora of plum timeslots could be opening up this fall. Being paired with a hit can make all the difference in a show between becoming the next big thing or a short-lived dud.

Many of TV’s top-rated series are handling lead-in duties for middling shows that programmers are mulling swapping out to give a new wave of series the best chance for success. NBC’s “The Voice,” for instance, could be positioned to propel a freshman hour the way it did this midseason for “Smash,” which Peacock brass have already hinted would move elsewhere on the sked if it comes back next season.

On the comedy side, powerhouses including ABC’s “Modern Family,” CBS’ “The Big Bang Theory” as well as Fox’s “New Girl” could end up launch pads for the bumper crop of half-hours in development. The 46 comedies in this year’s pilot mix represent an increase in the comedy volume compared to recent years, a reflection of the genre’s reversal of fortune this season — not to mention the fortune that awaits half-hour hits that make it to syndication.

The challenge for broadcast development execs isn’t as simple as creating great programming in a vaccuum; the shows need to be compatible with what’s already on their respective schedules. That’s why Fox, for instance, chose to cultivate strong female comedic voices like “The Office’s” Mindy Kaling or “Saturday Night Live’s” Abby Elliott (“Ned Fox Is My Manny”) to anchor projects that could fit nicely alongside “Girl,” which proved a perfect vehicle for Zooey Deschanel.

“You have to develop comedies that work with your schedule,” said longtime TV-industry analyst Shari Anne Brill. “You don’t want to deliver an audience just to have them leave before the next half-hour.”

While “Girl” proved a decent pairing with sophomore comedy “Raising Hope,” Fox’s recent trial run of “Hope” at 8 p.m. Tuesday raises the possibility the net will move “Glee” elsewhere and take the night to a four-comedy lineup.

For 8:30 p.m., Fox will likely look for pilots with themes resonating with auds on “Hope.” To wit, five male-centered comedies with strong family elements including “Little Brother” and “Like Father.”

ABC could face a similar challenge for “Modern Family.” TV’s top-rated comedy hasn’t been the best fit this season with sophomore comedy “Happy Endings.” It’s an odd coupling: a multi-generational laffer set in the suburbs matched with the mostly single, child-less adults living in the city.

“Family” will probably find itself paired next season alongside any of a number of single-camera family comedies ABC is trying, including Claudia Lonow’s “How to Live With Your Parents for the Rest of Your Life” and the untitled Dan Fogelman and Mandy Moore projects.

Come fall, CBS may want to inject fresh blood into its own solid comedy lineup on Monday, and maybe even expand to four comedies on Thursday. The Eye’s comedy development has produced a pair of friends/romance laffers that sound like good fits behind “How I Met Your Mother” on Monday in the untitled projects from Nick Stoller and Malins/Berlanti. There’s also the femme-centric “Super Fun Night,” which on paper seems like a fit with “2 Broke Girls.”

And after striking out a few times in finding a comedy worthy of the post-“Big Bang Theory” slot on Thursday, the net has a few options, including “Friend Me” and “Partners.” And either the Martin Lawrence or Louis C.K./Spike Feresten comedies could mesh well with “Mike & Molly.”

On the drama side, the Alphabet will also look to strengthen Sunday, where “Desperate Housewives” is ending and “Once Upon a Time” has shined. That makes the 9 p.m. hour on the night one of the most important for the net this fall.

ABC could ride the mystical/fairy tale angle from “Once” with something like its “Beauty and the Beast” reboot. But there’s also “Gotham,” in which a female detective uncovers a magical world in the city, or haunted-apartment drama “666 Park Avenue.”

But Brill said Sunday at 9 p.m. represents an example of where ABC might opt not to ride the coattails of its lead-in but take cues from other precedents, such as what has worked in the timeslot in previous years instead of just the previous hour.

“They’re probably looking for something there with a ‘Desperate Housewives’-ish type of vibe,” she said, noting the series’ long run on that night has conditioned audiences to expect something in the vein of that series.

Since ABC faces “Sunday Night Football” on NBC in the fall, the Alphabet could make a purely female play with a pair of soaps, which could include “Americana,” “Gilded Lilys” or “Nashville” — or possibly move over this year’s rookie success “Revenge.”

There may be no better timeslot for a new series than Mondays at 10 p.m. on NBC if the net decides to shift TV’s hottest show, “The Voice,” to the fall in its 8-10 p.m. berth. “Smash” could clear room for another lucky drama to get a big boost, perhaps an hour with the potential to share “Voice’s” femme following, like “Chicago Fire” or “Notorious.”

That a show like “Smash” — which seemed tailor-made with its heavy musical component to follow “Voice” — hasn’t had better traction in the slot is evidence enough that for all the calculation that goes into scheduling new shows, it’s a discipline that is more art than science. Just look at the track record of another great launch pad, Fox’s “American Idol,” which has seen comedies like “Breaking In” stumble in its wake but propelled some of TV’s biggest dramas to greater heights.

“Neither ‘House’ nor ’24’ have any similarities with ‘Idol,’ but look at what ‘Idol’ did for those shows,” said Brill. “It’s a great lead-in, but not for everything.”

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