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With a battle between agents and the Writers Guild being waged in the background, it’s business as usual this month among the broadcast networks as executives cram into pilot screenings to decide the fate of 64 comedies and dramas and scores of bubble shows ahead of their respective May 13-16 upfront presentations to Madison Avenue ad buyers in New York.
With executive changes at ABC (hello, Karey Burke), NBC (farewell Bob Greenblatt), CBS (Les Moonves will no longer have a say in pickups) and Fox (welcome, Charlie Collier) the pilot pickups will provide a greater sense of each broadcaster’s direction heading into the 2019-20 season.
In keeping with tradition, The Hollywood Reporter dialed up industry insiders and has compiled 10 of the buzziest comedies and dramas that stand the best shot of earning series pickups. As always, take the below with a grain of salt, as buzz changes like the wind this time of year. This is the seventh year that I’ve done this list and the fact that I’ve not once scored a perfect 10 should illustrate how quickly a pilot goes from hot to not. (See for yourself with our lists from 2013, 2014, 2015, 2016, 2017 and 2018.)
1. Stumptown | The comic book take is the early drama leader at ABC. Fox-turned-Disney execs Peter Rice and Dana Walden are reviewing everything — including deals with veteran series like The Goldbergs — and will have a hand alongside Burke in determining pickups and renewals this season. While the network has yet to formally finish screening all of its pilots, the Oni Press graphic novel adaption starring How I Met Your Mother grad Cobie Smulders has emerged as a standout. Burke’s larger goal is to see ABC regain its perch as the most-watched broadcast network among women and this drama sees Smulders playing a strong, assertive and unapologetically sharp-witted Army vet solving everyone’s messes but her own. Multiple sources say the network is impressed with Smulders’ performance, with the actress one of the few name stars to land at the network this season. Dick Wolf’s New York Undercover revival also is gaining traction as NYPD Blue is heating up following a strong Wednesday screening. Also looking good is Hypnotist’s Love Story starring Heather Graham, which is based on the book by red-hot Big Little Lies author Liane Moriarty. Heart of Life, the sibling drama inspired by the John Mayer song of the same name, also has buzz given its pedigree and leading man in Harry Shum Jr. (who is expected to be the next lead in the Crazy Rich Asians sequel).
2. Untitled Hannah Simone | With the Black-ish prequel spinoff Mixed-ish already picked up to series, ABC’s other comedy frontrunners are about what you’d expect. Hannah Simone may finally get the right call from ABC a year after the network’s surprising pass on Greatest American Hero. The New Girl grad stars in the single-camera comedy about a woman and her Indian-American immigrant father. In addition to starring, Simone wrote and exec produced the pilot, which would fit in nicely with ABC’s comedy brand. Also in the mix is the untitled Leslie Odom Jr. multicamera comedy inspired by real-life progressive pastors Touré Roberts and Sarah Jakes-Roberts. The comedy boasts Hamilton grad Odom Jr. as a leading man and is produced by ABC favorite Kerry Washington (Scandal).
3. Evil | The science vs. religion drama from The Good Fight creators Robert and Michelle King is the frontrunner at CBS. The procedural starring Westworld breakout Katja Herbers, Luke Cage grad Mike Colter and network favorite Michael Emerson is considered to be already on the air, with the Kings officially back on the network (vs. subscription streaming platform CBS All Access). Also looking hot is Dick Wolf’s FBI spinoff, Most Wanted, starring Julian McMahon (Nip/Tuck). The very on-brand CBS drama Courthouse — starring fellow network favorite Marg Helgenberger — is considered a strong contender as well. Drama Tommy, starring Emmy favorite Edie Falco, is a priority for CBS but may need to be retooled.
4. Carol’s Second Act | On CBS’ comedy side, the Patricia Heaton multicamera family comedy was picked up with a sizable series commitment penalty attached and is considered the season’s biggest slam-dunk to get on the air. Heaton stars as a woman, who, after raising her two children and retiring from teaching, decides to become a doctor. Kyle MacLachlan co-stars in the comedy from beloved Trophy Wife creators Emily Halpern and Sarah Haskins. Elsewhere, Chuck Lorre’s Bob Hearts Abishola could help CBS fill the void created when Big Bang Theory wraps its run this month. The multicamera comedy brings Mike and Molly star Billy Gardell back to the network and has also been considered close to a sure thing given hitmaker Lorre’s involvement.
5. Filthy Rich | The Southern Gothic dramedy starring Kim Cattrall has drawn positive early reviews for the strong and authentic product that writer, director and exec producer Tate Taylor has turned in. The concept — a wealthy Christian network CEO dies, leaving his family and illegitimate kids to battle over his fortune — works with the new Fox Entertainment’s post-Disney deal identity. Sex and the City grad Cattrall has also drawn rave reviews for her performance opposite This Is Us Emmy winner Gerald McRaney. All of the network’s other dramas — save for Lovestruck — also seem to still be in the mix as Fox Entertainment CEO Charlie Collier will have tough decisions to make given the network’s little shelf space with postseason baseball, the NFL on Thursdays and wrestling on Fridays, and the very strong possibility that midseason hit The Masked Singer will return in the fall. Elsewhere, Next — the AI drama starring John Slattery — has buzz, as does Jason Katims-produced Sisters. Blacklist-like drama Prodigal Son, starring Michael Sheen and Tom Payne (who replaced Finn Jones), is also in the mix after what sources say was a strong performance from the former. Deputy, which boasts one of pilot season’s biggest talent deals for star Stephen Dorff, is also considered a contender for a potential midseason slot as Fox may look to replicate The Masked Singer success and focus heavily on midseason launches when there’s reduced competition come January.
6. Geniuses | Fox’s comedy offerings are harder to gauge this season, but the multicamera family comedy starring Maggie Lawson and Jason Biggs is the leader of the pack. Elsewhere, Thomas Lennon’s Kidding-like comedy also has some buzz given the creative risk in a comedy about a cartoon mouse who appears in the children’s author’s real life in a unique father-son comedy. Andrew Rannells also quietly replaced Jason Alexander as the voice of the cartoon mouse. With little room on the schedule thanks to sports, Fox also has a pair of animated straight-to-series orders to place, so it’s unclear just how many live-action half-hours the network will add to its slate.
7. Prism | The murder trial drama — told through the POV of a different person involved in the case in every episode — is NBC’s leading drama contender. Malin Akerman stars in the drama from CSI grad Carol Mendelsohn that has remained hot since the Billions actress landed the leading role. Elsewhere, Allison Tolman-led genre thriller Emergence (a rare off-network buy from ABC Studios) is said to have turned out well. Jimmy Smits drama Bluff City Law also has a shot. NBC has already renewed the bulk of its dramas for next season — only Blindspot remains on the bubble with a This Is Us renewal all but a formality — so it’s unclear just how many of seven dramas will make the cut.
8. The Kenan Show | After years of development, Saturday Night Live elder statesman Kenan Thompson may finally be making the move to primetime. The single-camera comedy in which he stars as a widowed dad raising his children with his very involved father-in-law (Andy Garcia) is considered a lock for NBC’s schedule. Thompson, sources say, would remain on SNL and attempt to juggle both shows as well as his commitment to hosting the network’s Bring the Funny.
9. Batwoman | The second wave of The CW’s DC Comics-inspired dramas is imminent as the Ruby Rose-led superhero drama from Caroline Dries and super-producer Greg Berlanti is already staffing and just awaiting the formal series pickup call. This one has been a lock effectively since the minute Rose was cast as TV’s first leading lesbian superhero. The CW, a joint effort from CBS TV Studios and Warner Bros. TV, typically splits pickups between its two corporate parents. If the network picks up four new series — which is likely, though it could pick up more given CW president Mark Pedowitz’s push for year-round originals — look for Riverdale spinoff Katy Keene to be the second order from WBTV.
10. Nancy Drew | After multiple attempts at bringing the famed sleuth to TV by various networks, studios and writers, Gossip Girl grads Josh Schwartz and Stephanie Savage may finally have cracked the case. Star Kennedy McMann is considered one of the season’s potential breakout stars with The CW always keen to keep Schwartz and Savage (Dynasty) involved at the network. The second pickup from producers CBS TV Studios is where the situation at The CW gets murky as the network has strong contenders in original concept Glamorous — about a gender nonconforming high school grad — and Jane the Virgin offshoot anthology Jane the Novela. Of the two, Glamorous currently has the edge thanks in part to its original concept and the breakout potential of star Ben J. Pierce. Rob Thomas’ (iZombie) redeveloped Lost Boys is currently on the outside looking in.
Follow all the renewals, cancellations and new show orders with THR‘s scorecards for ABC, CBS, Fox, NBC and The CW and keep up with all the latest pilot pickups and passes with our handy guide. For complete coverage, bookmark THR.com/upfronts.
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