TV networks watering new crop of pilot programs

After months of some pretty lackluster comedies and dramas, it’s finally here: Spring, when a young TV geek’s fancy turns to pilot season.

The networks are deciding which of the potential new series they’ve purchased to commit to for the fall, and to hear them tell it, all the new series are above average. It’s kind of like Lake Wobegon, only with bleeding ulcers instead of lutefisk.

As always, you can get an early look at the new crop of pilot episodes at Television City, the research facility inside the MGM Grand that will be testing 25 or so shows for CBS and The CW over the next three weeks.

But this year, you can get a sneak peek at two new fall series without schlepping all the way to the Strip. The first of a two-part “NCIS” (8 p.m. Tuesday, KLAS-TV, Channel 8) will showcase Chris O’Donnell and LL Cool J, who are all but guaranteed to star in a spinoff of the hit drama this fall.

And Fox will air the first episode of “Glee” — which is part “American Pie,” part “High School Musical” — May 19, before it joins the regular schedule this fall.

Here’s a look at some of the shows under consideration:

IT’S THE ECONOMY

The biggest trend for fall is trying to wring laughs out of the tough job market.

Kelsey Grammer stars as a Wall Street tycoon who’s forced out of his lavish lifestyle and back to his small hometown in an as-yet-untitled comedy for ABC, which also is developing “This Little Piggy,” about three grown siblings who move in together, and “Pulling,” a comedy about three girlfriends who move in together.

CBS is working on “The Big D,” about a couple who move to his hometown and his colorful family, and “The Karenskys,” a comedy about a couple who move to her hometown and her colorful family.

Fox has “Brothers,” a comedy about a football star who retires to — wait for it — his hometown.

And no one may be moving, but NBC has an untitled comedy with Debra Messing as a laid-off CEO, ABC’s “Canned” focuses on five friends, four of whom just got fired, and Fox’s “Two Dollar Beer” follows blue-collar pals suffering through Detroit’s downturn.

LOVABLE LOSERS

Hoping that nothing succeeds like mediocrity, ABC is aiming straight up the middle with “The Law,” a “Police Academy”-esque comedy about deputy reserve sheriffs, “No Heroics,” a comedy about bumbling superheroes, “Single with Baggage,” a comedy about an underachiever who falls for a single mom, and, naturally, “The Middle,” a comedy about a mom who, the network says, is “middle class in the middle of the country and is rapidly approaching middle age.”

Not to be outdone, CBS has “Waiting to Die,” a comedy about two simple guys who stay happy despite their miserable lives, Fox has “Cop House,” a comedy set at a halfway house for messed-up cops, and NBC has “Community,” a comedy about community college misfits starring Joel McHale and Chevy Chase.

IS THERE A DOCTOR IN THE HOUSE?

NBC is hoping to fill the void left by “ER” with the San Francisco-based medical emergency drama “Trauma,” which shouldn’t be confused with “Miami Trauma,” a CBS drama about medical emergencies in, well, Miami.

Also in the works are “Three Rivers,” a CBS drama about organ transplants, “Maggie Hill,” a Fox drama about a schizophrenic heart surgeon, “The Eastmans,” a CBS drama about a family of doctors, and “Mercy,” an NBC drama about nurses.

WASHINGTON WEEKLIES

If you think Barack Obama excited the electorate, you should see what he did to Hollywood.

ABC has “See Kate Run,” a drama that skips back and forth across two decades to see how a woman on the verge of becoming president came to be there, as well as “Inside the Box,” a drama set in a Washington news bureau.

Elsewhere, CBS is developing “House Rules,” a drama about the freshman class of the U.S. Congress, and The CW has “The Body Politic,” a drama about young Washington power players.

SOMETHING FAMILIAR

Even though most reworkings of existing series failed miserably this season, Fox is remaking the British comedy “Absolutely Fabulous,” ABC is remaking the aliens-among-us drama “V,” and NBC is remaking, for the second time, the movie “Parenthood.”

And in addition to its “Melrose Place” update and “Gossip Girl” spinoff, The CW is turning the “Vampire Diaries” series of books, about a girl torn between vampire brothers, into a drama from “Dawson’s Creek” and “Scream” creator Kevin Williamson.

Christopher Lawrence’s Life on the Couch column appears on Sundays. E-mail him at clawrence@reviewjournal.com.

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