NBC, HBO order series as others wait

Aaron Sorkin is heading back to NBC next season.

Ten days before his White House drama The West Wing is set to end its seven-year run on the network, NBC has given the green light to his latest drama series, Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip, for the 2006-07 season.

The show, which is set behind the scenes at a popular late-night sketch comedy show in the vein of NBC's own Saturday Night Live, stars Matthew Perry, Amanda Peet, and Bradley Whitford.

Created by Sorkin and fellow West Wing alumnus Thomas Schlamme, it originally was picked up with a series commitment. Its is now understood to have received a 13-episode order.

The series pickup for Studio 60 is not thought to be affecting the chances of another NBC project set behind the scenes of a television show, an untitled show from Tina Fey, which is considered a hot prospect on the comedy side.

Meanwhile, HBO ordered to series its pilot SexLife, described as a racy drama about three couples with intimacy issues. The number of episodes HBO will pick up is yet to be determined.

As broadcast networks prepare to unveil their fall lineups during the week of May 15, sources said several pilots are close to earning early pickups along with Studio 60 and Fox's Vanished and 'Til Death, which received formal orders last week.

NBC's dramas Heroes and Friday Night Lights, Fox's drama Primary, and CBS's comedy The Class are all said to have been given the go-ahead to begin hiring staff writers and producers, which is always a good sign of a network's faith in a pilot.

According to sources, also hot at NBC are the comedies Community Service, a Jay Mohr vehicle said to be in the tone of the network's freshman hit My Name Is Earl; 20 Good Years, which stars John Lithgow and Jeffrey Tambor; The Singles Table; and the Fey project.

On the drama side, the Jeff Goldblum starrer Raines also is said to be in contention. NBC is building a large drama series inventory for next season with two projects--The Black Donnellys and Kidnapped--already picked up to series and a slew of existing series, including the Law & Order franchise, Medium, Crossing Jordan, and Las Vegas, assured a return to the schedule.

The dramas American Crime, Damages, 13 Graves, and Southern Comfort also are believed to have a shot at Fox. In the comedy field, the network is said to be considering The Winner--a project developed by Family Guy creator Seth MacFarlane--and the freshman comedy The War at Home as a potential companion for 'Til Death. Julie Reno, Bounty Hunter also is said to have a lot of fans at Fox, while The 12th Man and The Adventures of Big Handsome Guy and His Little Friend have cooled off a bit but are still in contention, sources said.

The dramas October Road, Secrets of a Small Town, Six Degrees, Ugly Betty, Brothers & Sisters, and Men in Trees are all believed to be in the running at ABC. The network's ensemble comedy In Case of Emergency, which has a series commitment, the Ted Danson starrer Help Me Help You, and an untitled project involving Mick Jagger, are rumored to lead the comedy field, with Him and Us, which stars Kim Cattrall, also in the mix. Sources said ABC is eyeing Him and Us and the untitled Jagger project to run as an hourlong combo given their tonal similarities. Him and Us revolves around a veteran rock star and his colorful entourage; the Jagger project features a guest appearance from the Rolling Stones frontman in a show about a group of blue-collar guys in New York who conspire to rob a rock star.

At CBS, The Class, which also originally was picked up with a series commitment, is said to be joined by on the network's hot comedy list by Inseparable. Most of CBS's drama projects are believed to be still in play, with two legal dramas--the James Woods-starring Shark and an untitled project from CSI maven Carol Mendelsohn--generating strong buzz, as is a medical drama starring Stanley Tucci.

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