More specs making it to pilot stage

Kelley's 'Kindreds,' Abrams' 'Undercovers' among pickups

It has become part of TV development lore: David E. Kelley spends his days fishing and writing in Northern California until he calls his reps and his producing studio, Warner Bros. TV, to tell them he has a pilot script ready.

The latest spec from "The Practice" creator, the legal drama "Kindreds," quietly was taken to networks this month. It sparked a bidding war before landing at NBC during a pilot-pickup season in which specs are hotter than ever before.

NBC's pilot orders for spec scripts include "Kindreds" and J.J. Abrams' "Undercovers," both from WBTV, as well as "The Event," by writer Nick Wauters, which was reworked through UMS.

Carter Bays and Craig Thomas' comedy spec "Livin' on a Prayer," from 20th TV, received a green light from CBS in a rich pre-emptive deal. It joins two other 20th TV comedy specs-turned-pilots: "Traffic Light," by "Wedding Crashers" co-writer Bob Fisher, and "Most Likely to Succeed," by veteran Dave Walpert.

Davey Holmes' political drama spec "Worthy," which landed at Fox in August, also is in contention for a series pickup with an order for two additional scripts, while "Burn Notice" creator Matt Nix's spec "Jack and Dan" landed a straight-to-series order from the network.

Two comedy specs landed pilot orders earlier in the development cycle: "Open Books, by "Will & Grace" alumna Gail Lerner, which is casting at CBS, and "Rednecks & Romeos," by "That '70s Show" co-creator Mark Brazill, which did not get past the casting stage.

And the comedy spec "This Little Piggy," by Steven Cragg and Brian Bradley, is showing resilience, landing a second consecutive pilot order, this time at NBC. (It landed a late presentation order by ABC in the spring and was set up at ABC Studios.)

"I compliment the development teams and the management at the networks about being very open-minded, going for the very best scripts in their orders regardless of how they were developed," 20th TV chairman Dana Walden said.

She noted that specs have the advantage of being able to surprise network executives, something projects they have developed from the pitch stage can't do.

Walden emphasized that while the decision as to how to develop a show is unique to each project, something sets successful specs apart.

"They come from seasoned writers whose body of work the networks know very well," she said.

Writing projects on spec has become the development M.O. of choice for some of the business's top writers, including Kelley.

Last season, Abrams, Alex Kurtzman and Roberto Orci wrote "Fringe" on spec, attracting heated bidding before landing at Fox.

Similarly, Abrams opted to go the spec route this development season for his action drama "Undercovers." The spec he co-wrote with Josh Rhimes drew multiple bids, settling at NBC.

Some writers do not have time to go through the regular development process, which requires a series of pitch and notes meetings. Abrams, Kurtzman and Orci, for example, wrote "Fringe" while working on the movie update of "Star Trek."

Similarly, "How I Met Your Mother" creators Bays and Thomas wrote "Prayer" with "HIMYM" writer-producers Kourtney Kang and Joe Kelly while the four have worked on the series' current fifth season.

"The four are very important to 'HIMYM,' and the show is critically important for the studio, so we weren't 100% sure that they would be ready," Walden said of the studio's decision not to take the pitch out in the fall. "We wouldn't want to disappoint a network that had paid a lot of money for a big commitment to the project."
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