Wilmer Valderrama lands Fox pilot

Would be first one-hour comedy at net since 'Ally McBeal'

Wilmer Valderrama is back at Fox in a new comedy.

Fox has ordered a pilot for "The Emancipation of Ernesto," a one-hour project starring Valderrama as guileless innocent embarking on an epic quest to find his father amid a Los Angeles landscape polluted with excess. The story is said to be in the spirit of the classic Steve Martin comedy "The Jerk."

The single-camera show is from 20th Century Fox Television and was sold to the network as a spec script with the former "That '70s Show" actor attached.

The pilot is written by Emily Kapnek, who created the Emmy-nominated Nickelodeon series "As Told by Ginger" and ABC's "Emily's Reasons Why Not."

"The writing jumped off the page; it has a really unique original tone," said Susan Levison, senior vp comedy development at Fox. "It was a mix of real emotion with hard comedy. She has crafted a character we have never seen before."

Levison described the character as having a little bit of Chauncey Gardiner and a bit of Forrest Gump. Raised in a Mexican prison, Ernesto is working in a Twinkie factory when the pilot catches up to him. Voiceover narration describes his journey to complete a mystery destiny, which includes finding his father and a long-lost love.

One-hour comedies are increasingly popular on broadcast, but if "Ernesto" is greenlighted, the show would be the first of the format on Fox since "Ally McBeal." "There's a lot of wonderful places where we want the contours of this piece to go," she said. "We just didn't feel like it could fit in a half-hour format."

"Ernesto" would mark Valderrama's return to primetime television after his role on "That 70's Show," which ran for eight seasons on Fox and concluded in 2006. Valderrama since has appeared in feature films "Fast Food Nation" and "Unaccompanied Minors."

"This is the first script I've read that made me excited to come back to TV," Valderrama said. He is repped by UTA and Rigberg Entertainment Group.