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The broadcast networks proved Friday that a hot property with a big-name star isn’t always enough to get a pilot picked up to series.
As the Big Four delivered a few shocking renewals (ABC’s low-rated For the People) and cancellations (Designated Survivor), they also made a number of “pass” calls on pilots that were considered frontrunners and slam dunks to be picked up to series.
This season, ABC, NBC, CBS and Fox said no to top stars (Katie Holmes), proven IP (Cagney and Lacey, a Bad Boys spinoff) and what would have been network TV’s first “brown female superhero.”
Here’s a look at the five most high-profile pilots that were not ordered to series and the reasoning behind the passes.
L.A.’s Finest (NBC)
Easily pilot season’s biggest slam dunk, the Bad Boys II spinoff was toplined by Gabrielle Union, reprising her role from the feature film and starring opposite Jessica Alba. It also boasted a proven producer in the film’s Jerry Bruckheimer. The drama was produced by Sony Pictures Television Studios, which wasn’t ideal given that all the broadcast networks (as well as cable and streamers) have been focusing more on owning their scripted originals in a push for greater profitability. Sources say talks between NBC and Sony broke down as part of the annual packaging negotiations that go on between the network (which usually wants one show) and Sony (which typically attempts to package others in the same dealmaking). Insiders say Sony pushed hard to get Norman Lear’s longtime passion project Guess Who Died, starring Holland Taylor, Hector Elizondo and Christopher Lloyd, on the air and package that with L.A.’s Finest and bubble shows The Blacklist and Timeless. Guess Who Died and L.A.’s Finest were both passed over (and are being shopped) and the jury is still out on Blacklist and Timeless.
The Greatest American Hero (ABC)
Inspired by the 1980s drama of the same name, the reboot had an inclusive spin in that the half-hour comedy revolved around an Indian-American woman. ABC scored a casting coup, landing New Girl‘s Hannah Simone for the role. The part was among the most pursued roles of the season, with Simone among the most in-demand actresses. (She signed on to Greatest American Hero after getting multiple offers for other roles elsewhere.) Sources say ABC felt that the single-camera comedy from Fresh Off the Boat‘s Nahnatchka Khan felt “off-brand” for the Disney-owned network. Instead, ABC ordered Tim Doyle’s comedy about an Irish-Catholic family of 10 in the 1970s; a single-camera family comedy from New Girl creator Liz Meriwether starring Taran Killam and Leighton Meester; and the 1990s-set Goldbergs spinoff — all traditional family comedies. Simone bemoaned the decision: “We just found out that network TV isn’t ready for the first brown female superhero on TV,” she tweeted. “This would have been history making and so empowering for young girls around the world.”
No Apologies (Fox)
For the second time, a broadcaster has passed on a drama pilot starring Katie Holmes in what would have been her first regular role on broadcast since Dawson’s Creek. Sources say the project from Empire‘s Ilene Chaiken and Melissa Scrivner Love will be redeveloped for a potential midseason slot and could shoot a new pilot — should Holmes approve. The 20th TV drama starred Holmes as an FBI agent whose affair shatters her life and threatens her career. Fox instead opted to pick up the Rachelle Lefevre and Vincent Kartheiser procedural Proven Innocent — a wrongful-conviction legal drama — from Empire co-creator Danny Strong instead, though the Holmes drama had the edge heading into pickup week. Meanwhile, comedy frontrunner Dan the Weatherman starring Thomas Lennon is being redeveloped for a potential midseason pickup as the network’s Last Man Standing revival threw a wrench in its comedy development.
Cagney and Lacey (CBS)
The reboot of the iconic series featured female leads (Grey’s Anatomy favorite Sarah Drew and Blindspot‘s Michelle Hurd), was written by a woman (Friday Night Lights’ Bridget Carpenter) and was directed by a woman (Rosemary Rodriguez). The drama, which was a co-production between CBS TV Studios and MGM TV, would have been a get for the network, which has taken hits for its lack of inclusion over the years. Sources say the pilot came in “soft” for the procedural-hungry network.
Wayward Sisters (The CW)
The female-focused spinoff from veteran fan-favorite Supernatural aired as a back-door pilot earlier this season and remained cold in the months that followed. Instead, the younger-focused broadcaster handed out pickups to reboots of Charmed and Roswell and a spinoff of The Originals — which sources say only shot a brief pilot presentation. With the pickup of Legacies, Julie Plec’s vampire franchise will head into its 10th year on The CW’s schedule next season.
Keep track of all the renewals, cancellations and new show orders with THR‘s scorecards for ABC, CBS, Fox, NBC and The CW and with all the latest pilot pickups and passes with our handy guide. For complete coverage, bookmark THR.com/upfronts.
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Thomas Brodie Sangster