Taking a Peek at What's on the TV Horizon

TIMES STAFF WRITER

The television networks may not be spending much time next fall making "Friends."

The 1995-96 season is only half over, and network development executives have barely started poring over hundreds of scripts to determine what dramas and comedies will win coveted spots on the prime-time schedule for next season.

But industry insiders report that even at this early stage of the yearly TV pilot game, CBS, NBC, ABC, Fox and the newer Warner Bros. and United Paramount networks have already started veering away from this season's trend of rabid cloning of the hit NBC series "Friends," a craze that flooded the airwaves with numerous shows about attractive, coffee-swigging, wisecracking yuppies.

"I hope the whole 'Friends' trend is over," said CBS Entertainment President Leslie Moonves. " 'Friends' worked not because of the concept but because of the brilliant execution by its cast, writers and producers."

In fact, Fox is seriously considering making enemies--or, rather, "Enemies," a show about four young adults living together who are not the best of friends. Executives at Columbia Pictures Television, the producers of the proposed series, say "Enemies" is to "Friends" what "Married . . . With Children" was to "The Cosby Show."

"Following trends is dangerous," said Jeff Wachtel, executive vice president of Columbia Pictures Television. "The next hit show will not come from a trend but from a unique and well-realized vision."

Instead of developing more "Friends," network executives are searching for wider-ranging comedies and dramas that will move beyond the desired young demographic featured in and targeted by the Thursday night comedy. Insiders say teens and older people may be more prominently featured in prime-time shows next season.

One studio executive said that this might also be the season in which a show featuring Latino characters hits one of the major networks. At least two dramas, including a period piece with Esai Morales, and one comedy (for ABC) featuring Latino characters are in development at Paramount.

And although "Friends"-style shows may be few and far between, several science-fiction shows are being developed in an effort to cash in on the success of Fox's "The X-Files."

The practice of developing a show around a stand-up comedian is still very much in evidence, but there is also a move to build comedies around actors with experience in comedy. Columbia is developing series with Richard Crenna, Joan Cusack, Gail O'Grady of "NYPD Blue" and Illeana Douglas, who impressed critics in last year's "To Die For."

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Traditional police, medical and legal dramas will still be a network standard, but future series may feature more relationships and personal twists in the vein of "NYPD Blue," "Chicago Hope" and "ER."

But insiders admit that if the variations and new directions sought by the networks don't work, viewers can expect more of the tried-and-true--either in "Friends" or "ER" imitators.

Between 200 and 250 scripts will be considered by studio and network executives during the next few weeks. Each network will pick about 25 to be produced as pilots. Of those, about half will be given the nod for a slot on the schedule.

Among the shows being developed is "Family Business," an ensemble for CBS from Paramount about a man in his late 20s with parents in their 50s. Paramount also is working on "The Second Time Around" for NBC, about a divorced man who becomes involved with a divorced woman; each has a teenage daughter.

Another proposed CBS show, "Pearl," would star Rhea Perlman of "Cheers" as a 40ish woman with a grown daughter who works on the loading dock. She decides to go back to school--at Yale.

"Everyone is looking for a good family show with a twist," said one agency honcho. "There hasn't been a big family show since 'Home Improvement.' 'Bless This House' was supposed to do it for CBS this year, but it didn't do well at all."

One certain entry in the family comedy arena will be a CBS series with Bill Cosby, based on the English series "One Foot in the Grave." Cosby plays a civil servant who is retired from his job and "rails against society."

The WB network is considering a comedy that would feature the 6-year-old Furdick quadruplets as part of a family that is overwhelmed with the task of caring for four identical children. The network also is pursuing a teenage variation on "Bewitched," the classic series about a housewife who is also a witch.

The success of last summer's hit teen film "Clueless" has sparked interest for shows about teens and children. Paramount is developing a direct spinoff of the movie, with Rachael Blanchard in the central role played by Alicia Silverstone. Every network except CBS is bidding for the project.

WB, meantime, is looking at another teen movie spinoff, 1992's "Buffy the Vampire Slayer."

"It's sort of like 'Clueless Meets the Night Stalker,' " said Garth Ancier, head of programming for WB. "It didn't do great at the box office, but it did wonderfully on video. It's about a teenager who is chosen to go after creatures of the night, between dates." The show is being developed by "Toy Story" co-writer Josh Whedon, who also wrote the film.

As far as adult comedies, CBS already has committed to "Public Morals," a series about a vice squad from producer Steven Bochco ("Hill Street Blues," "NYPD Blue"), his first for the network under a long-term production deal.

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Dick Wolf, executive producer of NBC's "Law & Order" and Fox's "New York Undercover," has three dramas in development, including a modern-day "Mission: Impossible" series for NBC called "The Player," starring rapper Ice-T.

NBC is also looking at a series called "I.A.," a Paramount project about a police internal affairs department.

"We have developed about 25-30 scripts in the one-hour area," said Tony Jonas, president of Warner Bros. Television, the leading supplier of series for prime time. "We're more or less trying to cover the widest spectrum. It's smart to develop all kinds--a superhero show, one or two family shows. We're trying to come up with edgy and powerful programming."

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