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Nets shun serial dramas, lure more feature pros

Heavily serialized dramas are out, soaps and high-concept procedurals are in, "The Bionic Woman" and Philip Marlowe are back, and one-hour British imports are hotter than ever.

Overall, the five networks have ordered 45 drama pilots, on par with the 47 greenlighted last year.

Dubbed as "the season of serialized dramas," 2006-07 yielded only one big hit in the genre, NBC's "Heroes," and one modest success, CBS' "Jericho." With a number of high-profile, heavily serialized new shows such as ABC's "The Nine" and "Six Degrees," NBC's "Kidnapped" and Fox's "Vanished" long gone, the networks opted for more close-ended dramas for next fall.

A record four British drama concepts have landed pilot orders: "Life on Mars" and "Football Wives" (the latter based on "Footballers' Wives") at ABC, "Viva Laughlin!" (based on "Viva Blackpool!") at CBS and a project based on "Wild at Heart" at the CW. They have attracted impressive auspices, with David E. Kelley writing and executive producing "Mars," Bryan Singer directing and executive producing "Wives" and Hugh Jackman executive producing and guest starring in and Gabriele Muccino directing and executive producing "Laughlin!"

Street cops are back in favor after disappearing from primetime following the end of ABC's "NYPD Blue." CBS ("Protect and Serve"), NBC ("Ft. Pit"), Fox ("K-Ville") and CW ("Gravity") are all on the beat with police dramas.

And then there is the high- concept element that adds a twist to many of this year's crop of drama pilots. For instance, "Mars" is about a detective who goes back in time to the 1970s; the detective at the center of Fox's "New Amsterdam" is hundreds of years old, and the private eye in CBS' "Twilight" is a vampire.

But if there is one element that dominates the drama field this development season, it's the invasion of big-name feature directors — a trend that exploded this year.

"We hear over and over that television is the new features," says Christina Davis, vp drama development at CBS.

Added Ted Gold, Fox's senior vp drama development, "It has to do with everybody's efforts to stand out."

Feature helmers tapped for pilots include Lasse Hallstrom, Spike Lee, Brett Ratner, Guy Ritchie, Doug Liman and Barry Sonnenfeld.

Nellie Andreeva