Networks Already Gearing Up For ’05

Fall is almost here—fall 2005, that is. And broadcasters are locking in development projects for next season, even as this one has yet to launch.

Perhaps the most notable projects revealed so far are a couple of military-themed shows from two networks. NBC gave a series commitment to a Pentagon-set drama from Jerry Bruckheimer, and CBS gave a pilot commitment to writer/filmmaker David Mamet and The Shield creator Shawn Ryan for a drama about a military anti-terrorism unit. Along with Steven Bochco’s planned modern-day war drama for FX, these projects underscore how viewers’ post-9/11 concerns are affecting TV content.

“The development process often follows what’s going on in the press,” said Laura Caraccioli-Davis, svp/director of SMG Entertainment in Chicago, a unit of Publicis Groupe’s Starcom MediaVest Group. She added that as the war in Iraq and the war against terror continue to loom large, more viewers are touched now by U.S. military efforts than in recent years. “There might be a heightened interest in this subject,” she said.

But some buyers questioned whether daily headlines will work for such fictional portrayals.

“The challenge that all of these shows face is the fact that they compete against real-world events,” said John Rash, svp/ director of broad- cast negotiations at Interpublic Group’s Campbell Mithun in Minneapolis. “Stories driven by military themes can often be too close to the news or not close enough for some viewers to garner significant interest, as ABC found out with Threat Matrix last season.”

Separately, Bruckheimer will develop a comedy for the WB and a drama in the Doogie Howser M.D. vein about a legal prodigy. Over at Fox, Third Watch creator Ed Bernero will develop a Starsky & Hutch-like drama. Bernero also signed an overall deal with 20th Century Fox TV. Meanwhile, ABC signed ex-NYPD Blue star Jimmy Smits to develop and star in a series produced by Touchstone TV.