Pilot Season Trends: Thirtysomethings, Dysfunction and Adaptations

ABC NBC CBS CW FOX logo - H 2012

ABC NBC CBS CW FOX logo - H 2012

After a deluge of pilot orders that brought the network pilot count to nearly 50 on Tuesday, The Hollywood Reporter took a closer look at what, and who, was faring particularly well thus far this season. Among the trends: more adaptations -- from books, plays or even blogs -- as well as thirtysomething characters, dysfunctional themes and semi-autobiographical story lines. 

What’s Old Is New Again
In a bid for built-in brand equity and proven plot lines, the latest crop of pilots again is heavy on adaptations. At least 15 efforts -- or nearly a third of those pilots already ordered -- have their roots in books (see Bill Lawrence’s I Suck at Girls effort at Fox), movies (CBS’ Beverly Hills Cop from Shawn Ryan), plays (NBC’s Assistance from Bachelorette's Leslye Headland), graphic novels (NBC’s The Sixth Gun from Lost’s Carlton Cuse) and overseas series (CBS’ Backstrom from Bones’ Hart Hanson). And that doesn’t include the two spinoffs -- from NCIS: LA and The Vampire Diaries) that are in contention at CBS and the CW, respectively.

All About Me
As it was during development season, semi-autobiographical fare again is garnering interest, with at least four projects in contention this pilot season. Among those who have taken "write what you know" to heart: Jim Gaffigan, whose CBS comedy pilot revolves around the stand-up comic as a happily married and harried New York City father of five -- as he is in real life, and Adam F. Goldberg, whose ABC comedy How the Hell Am I Normal? is billed as a dysfunctional Wonder Years set in the simpler times of the 1980s and inspired by his childhood. NBC’s untitled DJ Nash effort, about a son who idolizes his blind father, is bemused by his mother’s newfound adolescence and watches his family come closer together postdivorce, is said to be based loosely on his life, too. The same can be said for NBC’s semi-autobiographical Joe, Joe & Jane from Joe Port and Joe Wiseman, which centers on a conflict-avoidant children's book author caught in an ongoing tug of war between two needy, flawed people: his wife and his co-author/best friend. 

STORY: TV Pilots 2013: The Complete Guide

Pilot Season Powerhouses
Former William Morris TV agent-turned-prolific producer Aaron Kaplan has landed three pilot orders already this season: the comedy Pulling at CBS, Friends With Better Lives at CBS and The Gates at NBC. Raising Hope showrunner Greg Garcia landed two half-hour pilots at CBS on the same day; both are set up at his new studio home, CBS Television Studios. Bad Teachers' Gene Stupnitsky and Lee Eisenberg have two pilots at ABC: Pulling and Trophy Wife, about a reformed party girl who finds herself with an instant family when she falls in love with a man who has three manipulative children and two judgmental ex-wives. Will Gluck's Olive Bridge nabbed a pilot order for The McCarthys at CBS; it joins his Michael J. Fox comedy, which garnered a straight-to-series full-season order at NBC. Rescue Me's Peter Tolan also has two pilots in contention -- one at Fox (Greg Kinnear starrer Rake) and the other at CBS (the untitled Gaffigan comedy). And while Ted scribes Alec Sulkin, Wellesley Wild and Seth MacFarlane have only one project in Dad, but their comedy entry got a six-episode straight-to-series order at Fox.

Thirtysomethings Are the New Twentysomethings
Like its graying audience, the networks’ onscreen talent is aging, too. At least three comedy offerings this pilot season are focused not on the twentysomethings that populate such series as Happy Endings, Community and recently yanked Don't Trust the B---- in Apt. 23 but rather on the slightly more mature thirtysomething set. ABC’s Pulling revolves around three dysfunctional women in their 30s living their lives the way they want, even if society tells them they should have it all figured out by this point. CBS has Friends With Better Lives, about a group of thirtysomething friends who all think the other has it better. And Fox has made a big bet on MacFarlane, Sulkin and Wild's Dad, which focuses on two successful guys in their 30s who have their lives turned upside down when their nightmare fathers unexpectedly move in with them.

Finding Function in Dysfunction
At least two pilots in contention have the word “dysfunction” spelled our in their log lines. They are ABC’s Pulling and How the Hell Am I Normal? -- from Eisenberg and Stupinsky -- the duo who wrote Bad Teacher -- and Goldberg, respectively. Although not explicitly stated, the descriptor also is likely to apply to the worlds created in such pilots as Fox’s Dad and CBS’ unauthorized Garcia effort, which centers on a recently divorced man whose life is complicated when his parents decide to move in with him, among others.