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Network Pilots: How Many Will Fly?


The networks on Wednesday concluded presentations of their development plans for the fall television season, outlining to about 300 advertisers from around the country ideas for 100 or so possible prime-time series--of which only about 25% will be made.

By sharing their thoughts with sponsors early in the development process, the networks hope to generate some enthusiasm, which might translate to greater advertising buys prior to the fall season.

Judging by what was presented by CBS and ABC on Tuesday and by NBC and Fox on Wednesday, the networks seem to be going after an older audience, after a lot of fuss last season over the importance of targeting the younger, 18-to-34-year-old viewers sought by many advertisers. The networks are largely targeting families now with a continuing emphasis on comedy and some high-profile, action-adventure series to compete with syndication.

In addition, each network boasted of stars: NBC lined up Teri Garr, John Larroquette, Henry Winkler, Roy Scheider and Gene Wilder, while Fox nabbed rap stars Hammer and Queen Latifah and ABC has pilots with Judith Light, Joanna Kerns, Brian Dennehy and rappers Kid 'n' Play.

Here's a rundown on ABC, NBC and Fox. (CBS' plans were reported on Wednesday.)

ABC confirmed an experimental block of programming, described as "an FM station where people can come and go," in development for Saturdays, the least watched night of the week. The youth-oriented, two-hour block from HBO Productions will be a free-flowing assortment of comedy and music bits with two hosts and an audience.

Still, "America's Funniest Home Videos" creator Vin DiBona will create an alternate variety show for Saturday nights--"in case (the two-hour block) stinks," joked one ABC executive.

Among the 16 ABC comedies announced, at least half a dozen are built around stand-up comedians (Brett Butler, Richard Jeni, Ellen Degeneres, Thea Vidale) in a continuing trend at all the networks, which regularly scout comedy clubs in search of the next Tim Allen or Jerry Seinfeld. Other comedies include:

* Former heavyweight boxing champion George Foreman, guaranteed $7 million for a fight next month, will probably take a pay cut if "George" gets picked up. He plays a retired boxer who brings troublesome inner-city kids into his home.

* There are two pro female athletes on ABC's development slate, with Joanna Kerns of "Growing Pains" playing a golfer in the twilight of her career in "The Long Game." And in "Phenom," one of two James L. Brooks comedies in the works, Judith Light of "Who's the Boss?" stars as the mother of a 15-year-old tennis prodigy.

ABC appears to be leaning heavily on drama next fall, with a dozen series in development: Steven Bochco returns with a cop show, firefighters get the dramatic treatment in "Philly Heat," "Profiles" dramatizes the sensational topics on shows such as "Oprah" and "Donahue," and Superman receives a contemporary, ensemble treatment in "Lois & Clark: The New Adventures of Superman."

In addition, the creators of "thirtysomething" are back with "My So-Called Life," which could be called "fifteensomething." It focuses on family life in the 1990s from the perspective of a 15-year-old girl played by Clare Danes.

NBC wants to create more sophisticated adult comedies in the mold of "Seinfeld" and "Mad About You," which the network announced will be back next season. NBC's comedy development includes Wilder as a widower in "Eligible Dentist," Garr as a kindly IRS agent in "Death and Taxes" and Winkler playing a talk-show host patterned after Rush Limbaugh.

Also among the NBC comedies:

* "Cafe Americain," starring Valerie Bertinelli as a divorcee with a dream who wrangles a job in a Paris cafe.

* In "Crossroads," John Larroquette plays a recovering alcoholic, once rich and now destitute, who takes the only job he can get: the graveyard manager at a bus station.

* Both "Cheers" alumni George Wendt and Kelsey Grammer have their own series on tap. In "Dr. Frasier Crane," Grammer's character quits his practice and moves to Seattle, where he becomes a radio psychologist with a call-in show. Details were not available for Wendt's series.

In drama development, NBC is aggressively going for action. "Adventure, Inc." features a divorced couple who run an operation reminiscent of 'Fantasy Island." "Bermuda Grace" finds a burnt-out cop from Philly who becomes a detective in Bermuda. "Knight Rider 2010" stars the muscle car of the next millennium. They join the previously announced "seaQuest DSV," starring Roy Scheider as the captain of a futuristic submarine, which already has 22 episodes ordered for next season.

Fox unveiled a slate of 36 pilots, 20 of them comedies. The 11 dramas include four police shows, a serial set in Aspen and a Western cliffhanger, while the comedies featured such well-known names as George Carlin, Sinbad, Richard Lewis, John Ratzenberger and Judge Reinhold.

Among the Fox projects:

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