Fox upfront plan well-drawn

Animated 'Cleveland' almost a sure thing as nets scramble to fill slots

Things have never been so murky 10 days before upfront week.

With most pilots yet to be delivered to the networks because of the WGA strike, the horse race for slots on the broadcast schedules remains wide open.

One thing coming into focus is that after making the development of animated comedies a priority the past several seasons, Fox is on track to launch its first animated comedy — or comedies — in three years.

"Cleveland," a spinoff of "Family Guy," is expected to get on the air with a 13-episode order. The show, from "Family Guy" creator Seth MacFarlane, Rich Appel and Mike Henry, is now staffing. The writers are slated to begin work May 19, and the series' first table read is targeted for the first week of July.

"Cleveland," expected to be ready for spring, might be joined by two other half-hour cartoons, Mike Scully and Julie Thacker-Scully's "The Pitts" and Mitch Hurwitz's "Sit Down, Shut Up."

Both projects took a nontraditional development route when Fox ordered them as table reads in lieu of presentations to speed up the process. Now, each has been given "a yellow light." The shows are expected to produce one- to two-minute presentations.

"Pitts" and "Shut Up," both based on live-action series, have been given money to hire a handful of writers. "Pitts" had a second table read Monday and a third one is scheduled for May 7.

On the live-action side, early front-runners this pilot season include Jerry Bruckheimer's drama "Eleventh Hour" for CBS, the CW's "Beverly Hills, 90210" spinoff, Joss Whedon's "Dollhouse," J.J. Abrams' "Fringe" and the Bruce Helford/Bernie Mac comedy "Starting Under," all for Fox. All five are looking good to land on the schedule.

Also creating buzz is CBS' Simon Baker starrer "The Mentalist." Other positive feedback is for CBS' drama "Exit 19" and the comedies "Single White Millionaire," "My Best Friend's Girl," "Worst Week" and the Mike Birbiglia project, as well as the CW drama"Austin Golden Hour." (partialdiff)