May is upon us, and with that the final stage of the primetime pilot panic leading into the broadcast networks’ May 16-19 upfront presentations in New York. Producers are currently rushing to finish the cuts or re-cuts of their pilots for the networks’ official screenings. CBS on Friday became the first network to begin viewing its pilots, with the others are slated to follow this coming week. In compiling this 2nd hot list (1st is here), we surveyed a wide range of TV industry insiders, and I feel good about the sourcing on it. Still, as a former rocket scientist, I want to point out that it is not a scientific document as buzz is fickle. For instance, last year, CBS’ Blue Bloods flew completely under the radar until 24 hours before CBS’ upfront presentation. Now it’s looking good for a Season 2 renewal:
Last season, with no X Factor on the fall schedule, Fox picked up only two new dramas, Lone Star and The Chicago Code, in addition to Terra Nova, which was targeted for midseason. This year, the network has Terra Nova for fall after the series’ premiere was pushed. With the Tim Kring/Kiefer Sutherland drama pilot TOUCH all but assured a series order, the network may pick up as few as one and possibly two new dramas. After solid testing, the Ethan Hawke-starring and Antoine Fuqua-directed thriller EXIT STRATEGY has emerged as a frontrunner. The House-esque medical drama WEEKENDS AT BELLEVUE also has buzz, possibly as a companion (and eventual successor) to House. After an encouraging reaction from fans of Bones and promising preliminary research following last week’s airing of the Bones‘ spinoff episode, THE FINDER is also in contention.
Meanwhile, I hear Fox’s new crop of dramas may not include a sci-fi entry this year as both LOCKE & KEY and ALCATRAZ have cooled off, though the time travel-themed mystery Alcatraz still has loyal fans among the higher-ups. With the network recently renewing Fringe for a full season, it has secured the genre’s presence on the network for fall and has protected its good relationship with Fringe executive producer JJ Abrams, who also produces Alcatraz, in case the pilot doesn’t go.
The two 20th Century Fox TV-produced pilots, Liz Meriwether’s THE NEW GIRL directed by Jake Kasdan and starring Zooey Deschanel and the Shawn Levy-directed FAMILY ALBUM starring Mike O’Malley have the most buzz at the moment, with Warner Bros. TV’s multicamera comedy I HATE MY TEENAGE DAUGHTER starring Jaime Pressly also getting positive feedback. It’s been eerily quiet on the others, with TAGGED and OUTNUMBERED looking cold at the moment.
The Broadway-themed SMASH starring Debra Messing and produced and directed with the hands-on involvement of executive producer Steven Spielberg, continues to march toward NBC’s 2011-12 schedule. The project, an early favorite because it was the only NBC pilot developed by new chief Bob Greenblatt back when he was at Showtime, is getting great reviews, with many singling out the breakout performance of former American Idol finalist Katharine McPhee.
While not completed yet, the Maria Bello-starring remake of PRIME SUSPECT is considered a lead contender for a series order.
The three 20th TV pilots, Chad Hodge’s PLAYBOY, Kyle Killen’s REM and Stephen Gaghan’s SILA all came in solid. Speculation is that NBC may pick up 2 of the 3, with PLAYBOY and SILA currently getting stronger buzz.
Of the 2 magical pilots, 17TH PRECINCT and GRIMM, GRIMM appears stronger, while 17th PRECINCT doesn’t look good. In the battle of the period dramas, the feeling is that NBC would go with PLAYBOY vs. RECONSTRUCTION though the latter is said to have supporters.
Signals are mixed but more on the positive side for Michael Patrick King’s aging hairdresser show A MANN’S WORLD starring Don Johnson. Despite having a so-so testing, the pilot is praised for its execution (King also directed it), and its upscale appeal that fits in NBC’s profile of catering to high-income viewers.
Meanwhile, NBC’s highest-profile drama pilot, David E. Kelley’s WONDER WOMAN, is still in post-production. Like every high-profile project, it has its early detractors but we will reserve judgment until there is a cut.
There are rumblings that NBC might be mulling opening a block of female-centered comedies in midweek. (The Biggest Loser leading into female skewing comedies into Smash anyone?) That’s probably because several comedies with female leads are garnering most of the early buzz, led by Chelsey Handler’s ARE YOU THERE VODKA? IT’S ME, CHELSEA as well as the untitled WHITNEY CUMMINGS romantic comedy and the UNTITLED EMILY SPIVEY pilot starring Christina Applegate and co-starring Will Arnett and Maya Rudolph. Additionally, the UNTITLED KARI LIZER multicamera pilot starring Sarah Paulson has emerged as a contender after a good taping. It is a workplace comedy, one of several such pilots vying for a potential slot on NBC’s crowded workplace-themed Thursday comedy lineup, along with UNTITLED DAN GOOR and Peter Tolan’s BRAVE NEW WORLD, which also appear to have a shot.
Romance also seems to be in the air at NBC this pilot season. In addition to WHITNEY CUMMINGS, another romantic comedy, the Amanda Peet-David Walton starrer BENT also looks good. Early response to the third representative of the genre, the U.K. adaptation FREE AGENTS is not as positive beyond praise for star Hank Azaria.
LOVELIVES appears cold
Word is ABC may pick up as many as 6-7 new dramas after another disappointing season that produced only one modest performer, Body of Proof. There is also chatter that the network is considering low-cost scripted programming for Friday, which would surprise me given how well the network’s current reality/newsmagazine lineup is doing, regularly beating CBS’ scripted series.
CHARLIE’S ANGELS Very strong, considered a lock.
GOOD CRISTIAN’S BITCHES The Southern soap that recently evoked the wrath of PTC also looks very strong.
SCANDAL Shonda Rhimes’ crisis management drama also came in strong.
POE No Edgar Allan Poe-style mystery here: word is the 1840s crime drama is one of ABC topper Paul Lee’s favorite pilots
Speaking of pilots, those from ABC’s other period drama, airline soap PAN AM, are also flying high.
ONCE UPON A TIME Encouraging early reaction for the magical tale about a village housing classic fairytale characters, which is described by an insider as “Lost in tone and Pushing Daisies in look”. The pilot also is expected to get enthusiastic thumbs up from the Disney leadership because of the big synergy potential as it features classic Disney characters as Snow White and Prince Charming. Ginnifer Goodwin is getting great marks for her performance as Snow White, with Jennifer Morrison also looking good as the lead.
THE RIVER The final cut hasn’t been delivered yet but early buzz is encouraging for the horror thriller in the vein of Paranormal Activity.
HALLELUJAH Reaction to Marc Cherry’s soap with spiritual elements has been mixed. Because it comes from Cherry, it should not be discounted, with some suggesting a retooling for midseason as a possibility.
Also mixed is the early verdict on GRACE, the dancing/family drama starring Eric Roberts. It is being envisioned as a companion to ABC’s reality juggernaut Dancing with the Stars and its dancing sequences have been getting a rousing reaction. But the rest of the pilot has not fared as well.
Also in the lukewarm column is The Count of Monte Cristo-inspired REVENGE, whose reaction has been mixed to positive.
IDENTITY and PARTNERS Of the 2 pure procedurals, the Mark Gordon-produced British adaptation IDENTITY looks stronger.
Three early standouts, suburban family comedy SUBURGATORY, extended family sitcom SMOTHERED and the Jason Winer-directed DON’T TRUST THE BITCH IN APT. 23 continue to fare well.
There is no cut yet for the untitled TIM ALLEN pilot but the multicamera sitcom moved to the top echelon of comedy contenders after a very strong taping.
WORK IT The cross-dressing comedy in the vein of Bosom Buddies was one of those hit-or-miss concepts. People who have seen the pilot say it has largely pulled it off and and comes across as pretty cute. Also exceeding expectations is another pilot with a male lead and similar premise to TIM ALLEN, Chris Moynihan’s MAN UP.
LOST AND FOUND cold
CBS, which on Friday became the first network to begin screening its pilots, is once again among the most difficult to read.
The network is rumored to pick up 2 new drama series for fall and 2 more for midseason. The drama pilots that have been garnering the strongest early buzz are the Robert De Niro-produced cop drama ROOKIES, the Minnie Driver-starring PI show HAIL MARY and the UNTITLED SUSANNAH GRANT project directed by Jonathan Demme. Of the two CBS medical drama entries, SUSANNAH GRANT looks stronger than the Christine Lahti-starring and David Nutter-directed THE DOCTOR, raising the possibility that Nutter’s streak of 16 consecutive pilots going to series may come to an end this year.
UNTITLED ED REDLICH/JOHN BELLUCCI procedural aka The Rememberer, originally ordered last season but pushed after the lead couldn’t be cast, came in very solid.
RINGER – reaction to the pilot has varied from mixed to positive – Sarah Michelle Gellar stars, but it’s heavily serialized. CBS has only one serialized drama currently on the air, the acclaimed but modestly rated The Good Wife.
PERSON OF INTEREST also has mixed early buzz – it has great auspices: Jonah Nolan and JJ Abrams, and strong lead cast: Jim Caviezel and Michael Emerson, and it reportedly tested well but plays dark.
TWO BROKE GIRLS Solid buzz after a very good taping on Friday night. It’s shaping up to be a very interesting pilot season for TWO BROKE GIRLS‘ co-creators Whitney Cummings and Michael Patrick King, each of whom has a pilot in contention at NBC.
HOW TO BE A GENTLEMAN After snagging a last-minute pilot order, David Hornsby’s male buddy comedy has emerged as a surprising early standout.
HOME GAME Solid early buzz for the comedy starring CBS brass’ favorite actor who doesn’t have a series on the network yet, Rob Riggle.
UNTITLED ROB SCHNEIDER Reaction to the multi-cultural family comedy has been mixed-to-positive.
Multi-generational family comedy UNTITLED FILGOS aka HOME GROWN looks promising after a solid taping.
UNTITLED PETER KNIGHT cold
Two pilots seem to be separating from the pack, Kevin Williamson’s witch tale THE SECRET CIRCLE and the medical drama HART OF DIXIE, both from Warner Bros. TV. The verdict on the latter is not as unanimous as some still have issues with star Rachel Bilson’s believability as a doctor but she reportedly tested very well.
Of CBS Studios’ entries, the angel-and-attorney drama HEAVENLY appears the strongest early on, while zombie drama AWAKENING has had only so-so testing despite a very strong script, probably because of the departure from the CW’s brand of teen soaps it represents.
Ditto on COOPER AND STONE, which, despite a dash of Gossip Girl as the two female cops at its center are quite the fashionistas, is a straight-forward procedural, something the CW has no history of. And it also didn’t come out well, people who have seen it say.
DANNI LOWINSKI cold