This year's net pilots embrace classic setups

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TV networks are looking for a new "Mentalist." With pilot season drama orders winding down, broadcasters are investing heavily in developing new crime dramas and other self-contained procedurals for fall.

Cops, doctors and lawyers are in; serialized and complex story lines or unusual topics are out.

CBS' strategy this season seems to be the new model. With the Eye's procedurals holding up strong, nets are opting for dramas that a couple years ago — when they were searching for the next "Lost," "Heroes" or "Desperate Housewives" — might have been dismissed as too formulaic.

Fox's freshman crime procedural dramas "Fringe" and "Lie to Me" also have performed well, further suggesting to networks that re-embracing traditional self-contained mysteries is the way to go.

Nowhere is this trend more evident than at NBC, whose pilots include three crime dramas, two medical series and a lawyer show.

For network crime dramas, writers are finding new wrinkles in the job description. There are crime solvers who are underage (ABC's untitled Daniel Cerone pilot), amateurs (ABC's untitled Jerry Bruckheimer project), past-life investigators (Fox's untitled David Hudgins project) and FBI agents (CBS' "Washington Field").

Likewise, among medical shows, there are nurses (NBC's "Mercy"), paramedics (NBC's "Trauma"), a schizophrenic surgeon (Fox's "Maggie Hill") and transplant doctors (CBS' "Three Rivers").

A few pilots not fitting the mold are based on known brands, improving their odds. For instance, there's ABC's remake of the 1980s alien-invasion miniseries "V," or its series version of John Updike's "The Witches of Eastwick." There's also NBC's series adaptation of the 1989 movie "Parenthood" and CBS' "NCIS" spinoff.

The shows will hit the air after a glut of new procedurals that ABC and NBC will debut during the next few months, such as "Castle" and "Southland," respectively. If viewers are going to tire of new crime, legal and medical dramas, networks had better hope fatigue doesn't set in before fall. (partialdiff)
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