For network comedy pilots, trends emerge amid the laughs

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Just like their drama counterparts, serialized comedies have been given a cold shoulder this development season. Overall, the five networks have ordered 53 comedy pilots and presentations, up from 50 last year. The single-camera format continues to be in fashion, with all networks but Fox handing out more than half of their pilot orders to filmed comedies.

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That might change come series pickup time in May because the most promising new comedy this season has been CBS' recently launched "Rules of Engagement," a multicamera sitcom. "We're really happy to see that people have responded to a traditional-looking show," says Wendi Trilling, CBS executive vp comedy development. "It proves that it's not about the format, it's about the show."

Also big this development season are big, high-concept ideas as the networks have gone for such shows more than in previous years, says Samie Falvey, ABC senior vp comedy development.

"For some, it's a throwback to nostalgia for shows like 'Bewitched' and 'I Dream of Jeannie,' and some are looking to create noise and buzz," she says.

Such high-concept comedies include NBC's "Area 52," about a government team watching over a bad-mannered extraterrestrial, and ABC's "Sam I Am" about a woman with amnesia.

"Area 52" also falls into another major trend this season.

"There are more workplace and family comedies this year," says Susan Levison, Fox senior vp comedy development.

That probably has a lot to do with the success of NBC's "The Office" and the lack of hit family comedies on the air with ABC's "According to Jim" and "George Lopez" nearing their end.

The success of "Office" and ABC's "Ugly Betty" is also fueling the popularity of foreign formats with six adaptations making the cut as pilots this year.

Overall, it has been an all-over-the-map development season, with executives casting a wide net to catch the next big comedy hit.

"Since no one really knows where that next hit comedy will come from, all rules have been thrown out, so you could go for any genre and any writer," Levison says.
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