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Prepare for fall's weirdest TV pilots

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Tori Spelling
Tori Spelling: Jean-Paul Aussenard/WireImage.com

Throw them against the wall and see what sticks. That seems to be how the networks decide what new shows to buy for fall. Right now it’s pilot season, with the nets commissioning first episodes of dozens of series, and producers furiously casting and shooting them in the hope of getting picked up for the 2002-03 season. With more than 100 pilots competing for only a handful of prime-time slots, most won’t make the cut when the networks firm up their schedules in early May. But here’s a guide to the type of shows you may see in September.

CLONE WARS As the old joke goes, imitation is the sincerest form of television. So the networks are making three series with ”Miami” in the title, three ”West Wing”-like shows set in Washington, at least two ”Alias” ripoffs, and countless sitcoms about suburban families. But one set of twin shows may outdo all the others when it comes to redundancy: Two different pilots will follow the adventures of 30-year-old guys who go back in time to their 1980s high school years and change their lives. Oh, wait, they’re not quite identical; one’s a comedy (the WB’s ”Do Over”), one’s a drama (ABC’s ”That Was Then”).

INITIAL TITLES The easiest way to copy hits like ”J.A.G.” and ”C.S.I.”? Give your show an odd acronym for a title. In the works are ”E.I.S.” (Saffron Burrows stars as an epidemiologist, ABC), ”A.U.S.A.” (a comedy about a rookie lawyer with the U.S. District Attorney’s office in Manhattan, NBC), ”B.S.” (as in Boarding School, Fox), and the creatively punctuated ”R.U.S./H.” (CBS). This last one has some talented people behind it — it’s a cop show developed by Paul Attanasio (”Homicide”) and starring Billy Baldwin, Mary Stuart Masterson, and Colm Meaney. But pedigree may not be enough to overcome a name that viewers may forget ASAP.

DÉJÀ VU ALL OVER AGAIN Not content to imitate the title or topic of familiar shows, several pilots go all the way as direct adaptations of old shows or recent movies, including ”The Twilight Zone” (UPN), ”The Lone Ranger” (WB), ”Nancy Drew” (ABC), ”The Time Tunnel” (Fox), and ”Eastwick” (as in, ”The Witches of,” an apparent ”Charmed” clone on Fox). Apparently, someone believes that viewers are clamoring for TV versions of little-seen films like ”Tortilla Soup” (CBS) or ”Zero Effect” (NBC); they also seem to think that versions of ”Legally Blonde” (ABC) and ”Save the Last Dance” (Fox) can succeed sans Reese Witherspoon or Julia Stiles. The most warped remake ideas: WB’s ”Family Affair,” with ”The Brady Bunch Movie” dad Gary Cole as Uncle Bill and Tim Curry as butler Mr. French, and NBC’s ”Fantasy Island,” done as a reality show, with John O’Hurley (”Seinfeld”’s J. Peterman) granting be-careful-what-you-wish-for fantasies to tropical resort guests. Let’s just hope they don’t hire Verne ”Mini-Me” Troyer as Tattoo.

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