Insiders take a flyby at fall's hottest showscoming from Mel Gibson, Jessica Simpson, and Method Man.

By Lynette Rice
Updated March 12, 2004 at 05:00 AM EST

From dramas about mathematicians solving crimes (ooh, algebra!) to a modern-day take on Mr. Ed, the race is on to develop next fall’s big TV hits. This year the focus is on shows about families. But, laments UTA agent Sue Naegle, ”At the end of the day, the networks are looking for ratings, so don’t be surprised to see a detective show where Janet Jackson’s breast solves crimes.” Thankfully, that’s not on the roster yet. Two well-informed talent agents from Endeavor and CAA (they asked not to be identified, lest their bosses and clients view them as promoting the work of competitors) gave us the word on what pilots look most promising for fall, beginning with the network debut of Ms. Stinky Ass herself.

UNTITLED JESSICA SIMPSON PROJECT (ABC, from Spin City’s Gayle Abrams) A comedy with Simpson as a pop icon who’s hired by a TV newsmagazine. BUZZ ”She could be the next Kelly Ripa.”

THE CLUBHOUSE (CBS, from Mel Gibson’s Icon Productions) Coming-of-age drama about a Yankees batboy. BUZZ ”It could be another family show like Joan of Arcadia.”

THE FRIENDLYS (NBC, from Lucky’s Rob and Mark Cullen) Comedy about a widow who inherits hubby’s biz. BUZZ ”NBC’s take on Arrested Development.”

UNTITLED METHOD MAN AND REDMAN PROJECT (Fox, from Just Shoot Me’s Kell Cahoon) Sitcom about rappers in a wealthy area. BUZZ ”It’s Cheech and Chong moving to suburbia…wackiness ensues.”

ONE BIG HAPPY (Fox, from Cheaper by the Dozen’s Shawn Levy) Drama starring D.W. Moffett about a dysfunctional ”blended” family. BUZZ ”It has humor and a Cheaper by the Dozen tone.”

DARK SHADOWS (The WB, from ER’s John Wells) Dramatic remake of the 1960s sudser about a rich family under a vampire curse. BUZZ ”The WB already ordered six scripts, so it’s pretty safe to say it’s going on the air.”

VERONICA MARS (UPN, from Joel Silver) Drama about a teen girl who helps her private-detective dad. BUZZ ”UPN’s changing their direction. They’re not going urban, they’re trying to hit with female audiences this time. Veronica Mars is good.”