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Networks Scramble with Pilot Slots

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The comedy pilot picture is starting to come into focus at Fox Broadcasting Co., and it's pretty clear that the network is crazy for the Molly Shannon starrer 'Cracking Up' and the Portia de Rossi-Jason Bateman vehicle 'Arrested Development.'

'Luis,' starring Luis Guzman, also has strong buzz, as does 'A Minute With Stan Hooper,' toplined by Norm Macdonald. 'Senor White' also is said to be in the mix for the 2003-04 schedule, which Fox will unveil to advertisers next week in New York.

While 'Luis' seems like a logical companion for Fox's recently acquired Latino-themed comedy 'The Ortegas' -- there was speculation about 'Luis' and 'Ortegas' being paired in a Thursday 8-9 p.m. comedy block -- sources indicated that the pickup deal for 'Ortegas' guarantees a cushy slot behind 'That '70s Show,' 'The Simpsons' or 'Malcolm in the Middle.'

On the drama side at Fox, 'Skin,' 'Still Life' and 'True Calling' are said to be among the most promising contenders. There also was buzz about David E. Kelley's 'Boston Public' coming back but possibly moving to Fridays.

Meanwhile, executives at CBS and its sister network UPN adhered to company CEO Leslie Moonves' gag-order order policy on pickup and scheduling matters. But the grapevine Thursday had the Charlie Sheen starrer 'Two and a Half Men' and the untitled Nicole Sullivan ('King of Queens') project very high on CBS' comedy list. 'The Stones' also is said to be a contender.

Among dramas, 'The Unsolved' looks like a sure bet, with 'Joan of Arcadia,' 'Expert Witness,' a 'JAG' spinoff, 'Century City' and an untitled Samantha Corbin project also possibilities.

'All of Us' is said to lead the comedy pack at UPN, with 'The Edge' understood to have the edge among dramas.

Over at ABC, the drama 'Threat Matrix' picked up some speed Thursday with good testing results, with '10-8,' '111 Gramercy Park,' 'The DA,' 'Karen Sisco' and 'The Partners' staying strong. As always, there was the perennial speculation that this will be the year ABC scales back its Sunday 7-9 p.m. 'Wonderful World of Disney' TV movie slot for a few special events and program series in those hours.

At NBC, sources said brass have not given up trying to get Heather Locklear on the network in the fall. Locklear, whose pilot 'Once Around the Park' was passed on, has been approached to join the cast of 'Good Morning, Miami,' the freshman comedy that was viewed as unlikely to be renewed for a second season. Sources said the 'Spin City' actress -- who was sent tapes of another NBC bubble show, 'A.U.S.A.,' this week but reportedly passed on it -- is expected to meet with the 'Miami' producers Friday.

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