Networks' new pilots favor formula over experiment

Fri Feb 6, 2009 11:21pm EST
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By James Hibberd

LOS ANGELES (Hollywood Reporter) - 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 the fall.

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

The strategy undertaken by CBS this season seems to be the new model. With the Eye's crime procedural shows holding up strong in this tough media economy, every network is opting for at least a few dramas that might have been dismissed as too formulaic a couple of years ago -- when networks were searching for the next "Lost," "Heroes" or "Desperate Housewives."

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").   Continued...