Upfronts fall into place

Few rookies at ABC, Fox hanging with 'Fringe,' Eye on dramas

Stability seems to be the key word for the broadcast networks' schedules this year, as things are beginning to come into focus five days before the annual upfront presentations.

ABC, which is returning the largest slate of freshman series and opted to produce most of its pilots after the upfronts, is expected to add only a couple of new series to its fall lineup.

Rumored as potential new series announcements are Ashton Kutcher's reality game "Opportunity Knocks," David E. Kelley's drama "Life on Mars" and the NBC import "Scrubs."

"Opportunity," from Katalyst and 3 Ball and hosted by 3 Balls' JD Roth, is a game show taken to the contestants' homes. The crew will arrive at a family's home with stacks of cash and a semi-truck loaded with plasma TVs, furniture and other items the family members can win by answering trivia questions about their lives and about items found in and around their home.

Kutcher and Roth are exec producing with Jason Goldberg, Karey Burke and Todd A. Nelson.

"Mars," which had been dormant since the pilot was shot last summer, has gained momentum in the past week and appears close to a series pickup, with "October Road" creators Josh Appelbaum, Andre Nemec and Scott Rosenberg — all repped by Endeavor — in talks to come on board as exec producers and ABC Studios in talks with 20th TV to join as a co-producer. However, sources indicated that no deals can be made without the blessing of Kelley, who created the U.S. version of the British series and owns the rights to it. Kelley is currently reevaluating his involvement in the project, starring Jason O'Mara as a 21st century cop transported to the 1970s, as it goes forward.

With so few new additions, ABC's schedule is expected to remain relatively intact, including a redo of the successful freshman Wednesday lineup of "Pushing Daisies," "Private Practice" and "Dirty Sexy Money" from the fall.

Over at Fox, J.J. Abrams "Fringe" looks like a lock after an enthusiastic response from the network's brass during the weekend. Fox already has given its blessing for staffing to begin on the Warner Bros. TV-produced sci-fi drama.

"Fringe," which has the scope of Abrams' "Lost," is rumored for a fall launch as a key weapon in Fox's effort to shake off its fourth-quarter ratings blues. It could be paired with "Prison Break" or "Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles."

Fox's other high-profile new entry, Joss Whedon's "Dollhouse," which is still in production, is eyed for midseason. Meanwhile, the Bernie Mac starrer "Starting Under," which also was delivered to the network during the weekend, looks good to join Fox's multicamera comedies "Back to You" and " 'Til Death."

Generating strong buzz at CBS are dramas "The Mentalist," "Eleventh Hour," "Mythological Ex" and the untitled Geena Davis project.

The biggest question marks at CBS are whether the network will make the summer moves of "Without a Trace" to 10 p.m. Tuesday and "Cold Case" to 10 p.m. Sunday permanent. That would open the desirable post-"CSI: Crime Scene Investigation" spot for the launch of a new drama.

The CW is mulling keeping its new Monday lineup of "Gossip Girl" and "One Tree Hill" intact. The "Beverly Hills, 90210" spinoff is being considered as an 8 p.m. anchor Tuesday, to be followed by one of its drama prospects, "How to Teach Filthy Rich Girls" or "Austin Golden Hour."

Wednesday is expected to be all reality, led by stalwart "America's Next Top Model," while Friday and Sunday would be dominated by repurposed series. (partialdiff)
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