Networks plan ahead for fall 2005 -- TV exes talk about how they'll take some risks while looking for laughs next season

By Lynette Rice
Updated December 20, 2004 at 05:00 AM EST

First, the bad news: The comedies being developed for next fall feature the predictable — more harried moms, more wacky neighbors — as well as the re-re-re-return of Tom Arnold. The good news? Inspired by the critical — if not commercial — success of NBC’s Scrubs and Fox’s Arrested Development, the normally risk-averse networks are ordering more single-camera comedies without laugh tracks. ”The attitude for fall is ‘Don’t play it safe,”’ says UTA agent Sue Naegle. ”At least that’s what they’re saying.” Now that the six broadcasters are wrapping up their sitcom buys for the 2005-06 season, here’s what to expect.

An Arresting Development NBC and Fox are leading the way in creating single-camera series. Desperate Housewives‘ success prompted NBC to dust off a script co-written by The Bernie Mac Show‘s John Riggi about five families in a cul-de-sac, while Fox is developing a sitcom about a recent college graduate.

Lady Pluck UPN is giving Jane Buckingham’s book Modern Girl’s Guide to Life the sitcom treatment, while NBC is making a sitcom based on the life of mom/pro poker player Annie Duke from Frasier writer Jack Burditt. And playing against type, Tara Reid portrays a reformed party girl in a Fox sitcom from American Dreams exec producer Jonathan Prince.

Oh, God! At least two nets are hoping for some divine intervention to boost sitcom ratings. There’s an ABC series from writer Matt Berry about a comedian-turned-small-town minister, and Fox has a comedy from Action scribe Ron Zimmerman that depicts Jesus as a slacker teen.

It’s My Life Fox has two autobiographical comedies in the works: one with Ralph Macchio as a 43-year-old Long Island dad and another with Deion Sanders as a jock balancing family and grid life. Meanwhile, Roseanne’s ex, Tom Arnold, is developing a show for ABC based on his life with the former sitcom diva’s kids, and Tori Spelling is the producer and costar of an NBC project based on her life after Beverly Hills, 90210.

Mama Mia! Melissa Etheridge stars in an ABC sitcom about a lesbian and straight man who become sudden parents to his estranged teenage daughter, while Hairspray‘s Harvey Fierstein plays a mom in a Fox series. Just spare us the obligatory ”life’s a drag” line please.