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Where’s the Pilot Pizzazz? Networks Need to Impress

The Big 4 should take some big swings in the next go-round after a ho-hum 2012-13 season

As the upfronts approach, it’s hard to scope out pilot pickup buzz at the major broadcast nets this year because there are few clear heat-seekers.

The big bets of this year’s development crop were made early on in the cycle (last summer and fall) and for the most part have retained their front-runner status: ABC’s “Marvel’s Agents of Shield” with the Whedon clan; CBS’ redo of “Beverly Hills Cop”; NBC’s 22-episode throwdown for the Michael J. Fox domestic laffer; Andy Samberg and Andre Braugher in Fox’s cop comedy “Brooklyn 99”; and the union of David E. Kelley and Robin Williams in CBS’ “Crazy Ones.”

J.J. Abrams has his minimum allotment of two pilots: Fox’s robot-cops vehicle and “Believe” with Alfonso Cuaron at NBC. David Shore is said to be looking promising with ABC drama “Doubt.”

The fuzzy picture for next season’s series pickups will clear up a little this week as the broadcast nets begin their formal pilot screenings. Here’s hoping there is more sizzle on the screen than there seems to be at this stage. The nets need some flash after a ho-hum 2012-13 season.

There are notable in-demand thesps on the pilot roster this year — Toni Collette, Greg Kinnear, Josh Holloway, Debra Messing, Rainn Wilson among them — but not so much in the way of eye-popping, mold-breaking material. Procedural dramas abound, as do ensemble comedies about various combos of thirtysomething friends (“Friends” still casts a looonnng shadow).

Some of the most creative ideas have come in the form of nontraditional casting decisions.

“Office” alum Wilson is set for a dramatic turn as a misanthropic homicide detective in CBS’ “Backstrom” (it’s got a Swedish pedigree so ’nuff said), especially with Dennis Haysbert along for the ride. Christopher Meloni is leaving the serious law-and-order biz for a sitcom turn in Fox’s father-son laffer “I Suck at Girls,” which has good buzz. Wendell Pierce of “The Wire” and “Treme” is lending his mellifluous baritone to the Michael J. Fox sitcom (he’ll have to watch his language on broadcast TV).

CBS has put Beau Bridges, Margo Martindale, J.B. Smoove and Will Arnett under one roof for writer Greg Garcia’s untitled father-son comedy, which has momentum at the Eye. With that cast, who needs a script? Also gaining steam at CBS is comedy “Friends With Better Lives,” an ensembler featuring Kevin Connolly and James Van Der Beek. It is fortified by having been directed by James Burrows, who has a hell of a pilot-pickup track record.

At ABC, Adam Goldberg’s comedy with the colorful but soon-to-change title “How the Fuck Am I Normal” is hot enough to begin making staffing offers. At Fox there’s a lot of chatter about domestic laffer “The Gabriels” from Justin Hurwitz and Andrew Gurland.

NBC is said to be high on Jason Katims’ spin on “About a Boy.” A sleeper to watch at the Peacock is comedy “Welcome to the Family” from writer Mike Sikowitz, which revolves around a culture clash of white and Latino families brought together by an unplanned pregnancy. Writer DJ Nash’s comedy “Then Came Elvis,” featuring Harold Perrineau and Parker Posey, also has traction at the Peacock.

Drama-wise, ABC is said to be ready to roll on “Lucky 7,” a redo of a British drama about a group of supermarket employees who win the lottery. Fox likes the look of Kinnear as a charming rogue lawyer in “Rake” — a tonal successor to “House,” no doubt.

There are always a few no-brainers. ABC’s “Agents of Shield” drama is getting on the air unless we all wake up on May 14 (the day of ABC’s upfront presentation) in a parallel world where Disney doesn’t control the Marvel Universe. CBS wants Kim Raver in its stable of stars, which bodes well for the “NCIS: Red” spinoff that the network test-drove as a two-episode arc last month.

Chuck Lorre’s Mom, starring Anna Faris and Allison Janney, is pretty much bulletproof at CBS, aided by a great script and swell cast.

I’m not sure what the reviews are yet for CBS’ legal drama “The Advocate,” from “Mentalist” man Bruno Heller, but I’ll be hunting down a screener just to see Ben McKenzie (fresh off a career-making role on “Southland”) work with the always-awesome CCH Pounder.

McG’s ABC drama “Westside” is also a must-obtain, if only to see what haunts he and writer Byron Balasco chose to feature in the drama set among warring families in Venice (California, not Italia). Angelenos, of course, know the beachside hamlet is not actually a city unto itself, but we’ll let that slide for artistic license — just as long as the Warner Bros. TV production doesn’t have telltale traces of Burbank in its backdrops.

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