We are heading into the most crucial days of the 2017 pilot season. At the broadcast networks, pilots are headed into screenings and more testing, which will help determine which projects will go to series. And at the AMPTP headquarters in Encino, reps for the TV studios and the WGA are wrapping up negotiations, which will determine whether the industry will be able to avoid a writers strike. While the two processes largely had been going separately on parallel tracks, as the May 1 deadline for reaching a new writers deal looms, they are starting to converge, with some networks beginning to make pilot decisions with a possible strike in mind. So, as we hold our breath to see if the writers will make a deal or walk out, here is our pre-screenings, pre-strike edition of Pilot Buzz.
There doesn’t seem to be a bad apple in the bunch this year, with all six CW pilots getting favorable reception by the network. I hear the CW brass have given authorization to all six to start making if-come deals with writers. I hear the decision was made partly as a pre-emptive move to get staffing in place in case there is a strike and partly as an attempt to get ahead of the pilots on the Big 4 to try and lock in strong writers early. While if-come offers are not binding — they only come into play if a pilot is picked up to series — the odds at the CW might not be that long this year. I hear that because all six projects are faring well early on, the network might pick up as many as four or five of them to series with shorter orders if the budget allows. Among the six, the Dynasty reboot, from Josh Schwartz and Stephanie Savage, continues to be a favorite. Black Lightning, from Greg Berlanti, Mara Brock Akil and Salim Akil, also is going strong, as is the Bill Lawrence-produced hourlong comedy Life Sentence. The second Berlanti-produced CW drama pilot, Searchers, which hit a snag and had to undergo reshoots in South Africa and re-editing, is back is serious contention as I hear the last cut was very well received. Even Insatiable, a quirky, comedic hour considered a dark horse, is a possibility, as is Valor. The CW topper Mark Pedowitz had long been very interested in launching a military drama series, and I hear Valor came in pretty good.
Not a lot of movement in the standings at Fox. The Craig Robinson-Adam Scott paranormal comedy Ghosted is still looking like a lock. LA->Vegas also continues to be going strong, with its setting — onboard an airplane making domestic flights — very much in the zeitgeist at the moment following a string of incidents involving airline passengers. Linda From HR, which has a somewhat dramatic sensibility, also is in contention, as is Type-A, largely on the strength of its star, Eva Longoria. Liz Meriwether’s Thin Ice has been work in progress and has an indie vibe. It’s considered more of a long shot but still a possibility based on Meriwether’s track record.
On the drama side, Matt Nix’s Marvel pilot, directed by Bryan Singer, is still considered a lock (it underwent some reshoots), with medical drama The Resident, which has dark overtones, in serious contention after a light tweak to the original cut. The University project has been well received and also is considered a contender, with its topic, college rape, dividing opinions but also drawing praise for the way it is handled . Behind Enemy Lines has lost some momentum but, with only four Fox drama pilots produced, none can be discounted completely.
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ABC’s single-camera family comedy Losing It starring Jon Cryer continues to fare well. It has a premise that sounds like a comedic version of the hottest broadcast series this season, NBC’s This Is Us; it revolves around three adult siblings and their parents, with the dad coincidentally played by This Is Us standout Gerald McRaney. Also very much in the mix are Zach Braff’s Start Up, military family comedy Charlie Foxtrot, The Goldbergs spinoff, the City Mayor project as well as the two multi-camera pilots, Household Name and untitled Single Dad starring Rob Riggle. Among the two Warner Bros. TV-produced comedy pilots, Emily Kapnek’s Splitting Up Together has been gaining momentum and currently might have the edge over the Diablo Cody-Berlanti Prods. family comedy Raised by Wolves.
Kenya Barris-Vijal Patel’s early front-runner Libby & Malcolm, starring Felicity Huffman and Courtney B. Vance, continues to be a question mark after retooling (though it cannot be discounted), as is the proposed Black-ish spinoff, which was co-written by Barris and original Black-ish showrunner Larry Wilmore, who since has exited the project and has been helping on ABC’s Single Dad pilot.
On the drama side, the illusionist FBI drama Deception, from Chris Fedak and Berlanti Prods., David Shore’s The Good Doctor and Shondaland’s Paul William Davies legal drama are being buzzed about. Futuristic immigration tale The Crossing also has been getting attention. The Las Reinas presentation continues to exceed expectations and is actively searching for a new showrunner to succeed Chris Broncato, who won’t continue if the project goes to series. Of ABC’s push for lighter hourlong series, Marc Cherry‘s small-town project starring Reba McEntire has been quiet recently but considered a possibility, while the Barris-produced CIA show Unit Zero starring Toni Collette has been cooling off. ABC already has one new drama series picked up for next fall, Marvel’s Inhumans.
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At CBS, the Mark Feuerstein-Dana Klein multi-camera family comedy 9J, 9K & 9L continues to be going strong, aiming to join the straight-to-series Big Bang Theory prequel Young Sheldon. Beyond that, things are still murky, but, against all odds, I hear multi-camera cop sitcom Brothered Up overcame a head-scratcher of a premise — an emotionally guarded African-American cop partnered with an emotionally available Pakistani cop as they patrol a Detroit neighborhood — and last-second recasting of one of the leads, which delayed the taping, to fare well in the first testings. On the single-camera front, there is buzz on Me, Myself & I.
On the drama side, cop drama Instinct starring Alan Cumming still is being buzzed about, along with the Justin Lin-directed actioner S.W.A.T., starring Shemar Moore. Also in contention are Perfect Citizen, toplined by Noah Wyle; the SEAL project starring David Boreanaz; and possibly Jeremy Piven’s Wisdom of the Crowd off solid testing. Meanwhile, Mission Control is narrowing its search for a new showrunner.
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At NBC, Rise (aka Drama High), the drama pilot from Jason Katims and Hamilton‘s Jeffrey Seller about a high school drama department, and the military-themed For God and Country separated themselves from the pack last Friday when they received permission to make firm staffing offers to writers. It is unclear whether NBC will pick up more than two new drama series for next season as it already has the straight-to-series Law & Order: True Crime — The Menendez Murders for fall as well as a roster of existing dramas. Of the rest, I hear some buzz about VR drama Reverie with a stronger new cut. The soapy, female-centric Good Girls is an outlier but has some internal support.
On the comedy side, the Seth Meyers-produced untitled high school comedy, the Tina Fey-produced Busy Philipps-Casey Wilson starrer The Sackett Sisters, the Bill Lawrence-produced workplace half-hour Spaced Out and the What About Barb? reboot are getting attention, with the Charlie Grandy-Mindy Kaling pilot Champions also a possibilityg. On the multi-camera side, an early cut of Max Mutchnick and Jeff Astroff’s late order Relatively Happy was encouraging, with Jane Lynch as a standout. I hear the project, eyed as a potential companion to Will & Grace, is getting some more work done with a reshoot.
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