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Pilots of the future: The US network hits of tomorrow

With this year’s slate of US dramas and comedies currently being cancelled and largely ignored by the TV-watching public, Peter White looks at the shows that are likely to replace them next year.

Apart from a handful of series, including much of CBS’ slate such as Hawaii Five-O and arguably ABC’s No Ordinary Family, this year’s US network season has been disappointing. However, broadcasters are already well into the development process for the shows that will be screened for advertisers and international buyers in May 2011 ahead of their autumn launch.

The main themes? Blogs and superstar showrunners. Next year’s free-to-air schedule will potentially include five new series based on blogs and Twitter feeds following the ‘success’ of William Shatner’s $#*! My Dad Says. CBS is developing two additional web-to-TV projects including comedies based on Twitter feeds Dear Girls Above Me and Shh… Don’t Tell Steve, while ABC is developing series based on blogs including relationship site Tumblr, called Dealbreaker, Awkward Family Photos and The Lost Girls, in association with Jerry Bruckheimer.

The other main theme of this year’s development process is the return of the celebrity showrunner. Despite NBC’s cancellation of spy drama Undercovers, Lost-creator JJ Abrams is expected to return to Fox with a project based on the Alcatraz prison. “A show about mysteries, secrets and the most infamous prison of all time: Alcatraz,” its pitch reportedly  reads. Abrams’ Star Trek colleagues Alex Kurtzman and Roberto Orci are hoping that their comic book adaptation of Locke and Key will be picked up by the News Corp-owned broadcaster, which is also working with Glee creator Ryan Murphy and 24 creator Howard Gordon on an X-Files-esque supernatural thriller.

Meanwhile, NBC, despite its current executive situation – former Showtime boss Bob Greenblatt is expected to become creative chief any day now – has ordered a number of high-profile series including a ghost project from Gossip Girl and The OC‘s Josh Schwartz and actress Rachel Bilson, a sitcom adaptation of Chelsea Handler’s novel Are You There Vodka? It’s Me Chelsea and a military-themed series fronted by Lost alumni Terry O’Quinn and Michael Emerson.

ABC is also backing this trend towards keeping high-profile television writers in work with projects including The River, a thriller helmed by Paranormal Activity‘s Oren Peli, Darren Star’s adaptation of novel Good Christian Bitches and James Cameron’s TV remake of the Arnold Schwarz

enegger-fronted spy movie True Lies (surely a certainly given the success of Hawaii Five-O).

It will take many months – and millions of dollars – before the pilot episodes of any of these projects take shape, but network executive will be furiously hoping that one of these shows replicates the success of 24, Heroes or Lost, something that this year’s crop of shows has seemingly failed to do.