5 Big Trends of Pilot Season
What’s hot in TV development as the networks furiously assemble their shows.
1. TV Stars Rebooted
Pilots are again filled with film actors dipping their toes into television (Christina Ricci in ABC’s 1960s soap Pan Am, Ethan Hawke in 20th TV’s thriller Exit Strategy). But this year, many former TV megastars have been lured back to the medium with lucrative deals. Kiefer Sutherland will get an executive producer credit on creator Tim Kring’s Chernin/20th TV pilot Touch. Christine Lahti, who won an Emmy in 1998 for Chicago Hope, is toplining the character-driven medical series The Doctor. Don Johnson, who most recently tried a series with Just Legal in 2006, will star in Michael Patrick King’s hairstylist pilot A Mann’s World for NBC. And Tim Allen, who hasn’t taken on a regular TV gig since Home Improvement ended in 1999, scored what many believe to be the season’s fattest deal to headline writer Jack Burditt’s comedy for ABC, which will be reimagined to suit Allen. “Familiar faces work, but you’ve got to have the right concept,” media analyst Shari Anne Brill warns.
2. Still Hoping to Get Lost
High concept is in, rote procedurals are out. This despite multiple series — including NBC’s The Event and ABC’s Flash Forward — having failed to fill the otherworldly mystery void left when ABC’s Lost wrapped. Fox has Locke & Key, a supernatural family drama based on Joe Hill’s graphic novel; Kring’s Touch, in which Sutherland plays a father whose autistic son can see into the future; and Smokers, about a team charged with eliminating alien threats in space. The CW is going for fanboys with DC Comics’ Raven; the zombie-themed Awakening; and Heavenly, about a mortal lawyer who teams with an angel. And ABC has The River, from Paranormal Activity director Oren Peli, about a family’s search for their father, who vanished along the Amazon. NBC’s Echelon features a team that investigates paranormal happenings, and the Peacock’s Inception-esque S.A.N.D. is about “sleep and nightmare division” specialists who enter people’s dreams to fight nightmares.
Even many of the medical dramas and crime procedurals have an otherworldly twist. NBC’s 17th Precinct, from Battlestar Galactica producer Ron Moore, revolves around the cops in a town “where magic and supernatural elements rule over science,” according to the logline. CBS’ pilot from Ed Redlich/John Bellucci (Without a Trace) — a holdover from last year — centers on a female detective who can remember everything. And the net’s medical pilot from Erin Brockovich writer Susannah Grant follows a surgeon (Patrick Wilson) who communes with the afterlife via his late wife.
3. The Glee Effect
Glee hit a ratings high for Fox during its second season, so multiple pilots are sounding a musical note, including NBC’s Steven Spielberg-produced Smash, about the mounting of a Broadway musical, and Marc Cherry’s ABC effort Hallelujah, a morality play complete with a church choir as Greek chorus. ABC also has Grace, a dysfunctional-family drama about a womanizing dance choreographer (Eric Roberts). The project comes with a theatrical pedigree that counts Dancing With the Stars’ Carrie Ann Inaba among the executive producers and Mia Michaels of So You Think You Can Dance as choreographer. And the CW has the musical dramedy Acting Out, about counselors at a summer camp. “Imitation may be the sincerest form of flattery, but imitation is almost never well-received by viewers,” Brill says.
4. Reboots on the Rise
Credit CBS’ Hawaii Five-O, the season’s No. 1 new drama, for inspiring another round of reboots. ABC has a Miami-set Charlie’s Angels starring Minka Kelly, Rachael Taylor and Annie Ilonzeh with Smallville producers Miles Millar and Al Gough as showrunners. New NBC Entertainment chief Bob Greenblatt passed on the Rockford Files redo, a leftover from last year, but he’s going forward with David E. Kelley’s Wonder Woman, starring Adrianne Palicki.
5. Family Time
Office comedies largely have been pink-slipped this season, while the success of ABC’s Modern Family has spawned a plethora of unorthodox-family sitcoms.
NBC has Bent with Amanda Peet as a type A single mom; I Hate That I Love You, about a straight couple and a lesbian couple; A Lot Like Us, about a lesbian couple and their sperm donor; and the Jack Black-produced My Life as an Experiment, about a writer who uses his family as fodder for stunt projects.
ABC has Bad Mom (with Jenna Elfman), which plays on mommy guilt; Lost and Found, about a New York bartender whose son she gave up for adoption 18 years earlier seeks her out; and Other People’s Kids, about a middle-aged slacker who falls for a divorced mom.
CBS has Rob Schneider marrying into a Mexican-American family. Fox has I Hate My Teenage Daughter, about two women dealing with their “mean girls,” and Rob Thomas’ Little in Common, about disparate families who come together via their kids’ Little League games.
PRIMETIME PILOTS QUIZ: Can you guess which one of these in-development projects is fake?
Logline: A reimagining of The Count of Monte Cristo from a female perspective, this drama is about a mysterious woman who moves into a beach house in the Hamptons and begins plotting to kill the neighbors who destroyed her family.
Logline: Three flight attendants — twin sisters who are former beauty queens and their sarcastic childhood friend — balance eccentric personal lives and a career that takes them from city to city and man to man.
Logline: On the run from the mob, a troubled young woman hides out by inhabiting the life of her wealthy twin sister — until she learns that her twin’s life has a bounty on it as well.
4. Secret Circle
Logline: A young girl moves to a new town and discovers that not only is she a witch, but she’s also the key that will unlock a centuries-old battle of good vs. evil.
5. Work It
Logline: Two out-of-work used-car salesmen dress in drag in order to find work as pharmaceutical reps.
Answers: 1. Real (ABC) 2. Fake! 3. Real (CBS) 4. Real (CW) 5. Real (ABC)