With less than a month until the upfronts, we’re kicking off our annual Pilot Buzz series. As usual, the first edition only includes a limited number of projects that have been garnering early attention as many pilots are still filming. So, if a pilot is not mentioned, it probably means it is too early to weigh in or the feedback I’ve received is inconclusive at this time.
Shonda Rhimes. Viola Davis. Need we say more? ABC’s sexy suspense legal thriller How To Get Away With Murder, executive produced by Rhimes and starring Davis, is packing some heat early on. Secret & Lies starring Ryan Phillippe also is getting encouraging early response. It also has a seven-figure penalty and is directed by Charles McDougall, whose strong pilot record includes Desperate Housewives, The Good Wife and most recently, Resurrection last season. Then there is Marvel’s stealth Agent Carter project. Last year, the company went into Fort Knox mode on its Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. pilot, which was kept under lock and key. They took that a notch further this year with Agent Carter. Because there is a prototype — the project is inspired by a one shot, which was featured on the Blu-ray release of Iron Man 3 — word has been that it would forgo a pilot and go straight to series. The script was finished more than three months ago (“the script is great,” ABC’s Paul Lee said back in January), the option on one-shot’s star Hayley Atwell came up and was extended, but the green light never came. Now there is talk that a pickup for Agent Carter may come along with a renewal for Marvel’s freshman Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., with the new series possibly serving as a bridge between the fall and spring portions of S.H.I.E.L.D. Also getting various level of early traction at ABC is mystery Sea of Fire and several dark horses, alien drama The Whispers (aka The Visitors), medical drama The Warriors and mystery Clementine.
It’s been five years since the last Black family comedy series on broadcast TV, Fox’s short-lived Brothers. There is a good chance the drought could end this year courtesy of arguably the hottest comedy actor at the moment, Kevin Hart. His ABC comedy pilot is getting strong early response, especially for star Romany Malco. (Hart has a recurring role.) In the swinging for the fences department, musical fairy tale Galavant has come in quite good. It’s coming from a man who’s cracked the genre successfully before (albeit for kids) with Tangled, Dan Fogelman, though the question is whether the Princess Bride-style heightened reality premise and the musical element of Galavant can be sustained on a weekly basis and at a lower price tag than the pilot’s, said to be in the neighborhood of $8-$10 million. Couple comedy Irreversible has early heat as it marks the return to TV of Friends star David Schwimmer, with another fortysomething comedy leading man, Michael Imperioli, getting good feedback for Saint Francis, and ABC brass impressed by An American Education star/creator, young British comedian Jack Whitehall.
Producers who have sold pilots to CBS already got a cold shower last month when CBS Corp. CEO Leslie Moonves told investors that “with the addition of the NFL on Thursday night” the network’s schedule is so “darn tight” that it would likely only add two new drama and two new comedy series for next season. News is especially disheartening for drama pilot producers despite the fact that CBS will likely not return any freshman drama series. That is because the network’s slate already includes backdoor pilots that have NCIS and CSI in the titles. The NCIS planted spinoff episode starring Scott Bakula recently aired and has been well received. CSI: Cyber is yet to air and is a departure from CSI‘ forensic brand but people seem excited about Patricia Arquette’s performance. In an encouraging sign, I hear the project, which hails from CSI creator Anthony Zuiker, long-time CSI showrunner Carol Mendelsohn and former CSI: Miami showrunner Ann Donahue, is eying another key veteran of the franchise, former CSI: NY showrunner Pam Veasey, to board the potential series. Also talked about at CBS early in the game are Kevin Williamson’s untitled psychological thriller starring Dylan McDermott and Maggie Q, Madam Secretary, starring Tea Leoni as a maverick Secretary of State, which could be a potential companion to The Good Wife, and the Justin Lin-directed Scorpion. (CBS already has Vince Gilligan-David Shore’s drama Battle Creek picked up with a straight-to-series order, and early feedback has been encouraging.)
Like with the NCIS and CSI pilots on the drama side, there is a familiar title on CBS’ comedy slate with the How I Met Your Mother spinoff How I Met Your Dad, which has been looking good early on. Another comedy pilot with HIMYM pedigree, Tom Papa’s More Time with The Family co-starring HIMYM‘s Alyson Hannigan, is getting strong buzz, with veteran comedian Papa singled out for his work. Another popular comedian’s comedian, Jim Gaffigan, looks promising early on with the second incarnation of his family pilot.
At NBC, the McG-directed Mysteries of Laura starring Debra Messing as a homicide detective and mother of twins is garnering early buzz as is comic book-based Constantine. Futuristic drama Tin Man, which was an early order, has come in solid. The involvement of The Blacklist‘s Joe Carnahan has given a boost to the Katherine Heigl starrer State of Affairs, with thriller Coercion and family saga Salvation also being mentioned. On the half-hour side, 1960s space race comedy Mission Control is garnering early buzz, along with David Caspe’s relationship comedy Marry Me. With Mary-Louise Parker in the lead, Feed Me is in the running, with two other starring vehicles, Natasha Lyonne’s Old Soul and Rob Lowe’s The Pro also factoring in, weight-loss comedy Ellen More of Less in the mix and odd couple comedy Lifesaver making staffing inquiries. The network already has series orders for the Tina Fey/Robert Carlock comedy starring Ellie Kemper, which enjoys solid early buzz, and the Craig Robinson vehicle Mr. Robinson.
With two dramas already ordered to series for next season — Backstrom, whose tweaked pilot is getting good reaction, and ancient Egypt adventure Hieroglyph — and several projects on slow development/production track under Fox’s new model, the network only has three drama pilots in consideration, Batman prequel Gotham, hip-hop themed Empire and coming-of-age hospital drama Red Band Society starring Octavia Spencer. Gotham is practically on the air, with the other two also going strong early on. Things are murkier on the comedy side where the network already renewed three series, New Girl, The Mindy Project and Brooklyn Nine-Nine, and has three others, Mulaney, Last Man on Earth and Weird Loners, picked up to series. Matt Hubbard’s Cabot College is looking promising early on.
At the CW, DC adaptations Flash and iZombie from top producers Greg Berlanti and Rob Thomas, respectively, are flying high, with soap Jane the Virgin garnering early support and somewhat out-of-CW’s wheelhouse terrorism/family drama Identity also talked about. The planted Supernatural spinoff will be the first pilot in, likely next week, as it airs as an episode later this month.