We are a month and three days away from the broadcast networks’ upfronts, three days into the current round of negotiations between the WGA and producers and three weeks from a potential writers strike. The prospect of a possible work stoppage is casting a shadow over this year’s pilot season as producers are looking to get pilots done before the WGA contract expires on May 1 amid uncertainty when their projects will go into production if picked up to series. As is always the case with our very first Pilot Buzz roundup, it is sketchy and preliminary as very few pilots have finished cuts and many are sill filming. The picture will get fuller and more clear in the coming weeks.
The Craig Robinson-Adam Scott paranormal comedy Ghosted is getting strong early buzz. It has been a bumpy flight for LA->Vegas, with strong early going, landing Steve Levitan to direct and Dylan McDermott as the pilot, followed by struggles to cast the lead until locking in Ed Weeks at the last minute after his series The Mindy Project set an end date. But I hear the table read went very well, drama veteran McDermott surprising many with solid comedy chops, and the airplane comedy is a hot prospect again. Beyond that, most of Fox’s comedy pilots seem to be in the running, including the Melissa McCarthy-produced Amy’s Brother; Thin Ice, which comes from New Girl creator Liz Meriwether, key talent on the 20th TV roster; and Type-A, toplined by Eva Longoria, whom Fox brass had been looking to get on the network.
On the drama side, Matt Nix’s Marvel pilot, directed by Bryan Singer, looks good, with chatter about a possible early pickup. Medical drama The Resident also has been getting early buzz. With two of the six Fox drama pilots this year not filming until the off-season, observers note that all four that are being produced now might be in contention as the network tries to fulfill its scheduling needs. Fox found itself in a similar situation in 2015 when it also ordered six hourlong pilots, one of which did not get made for casting reasons. Of the five shot, Fox picked up four, including Lucifer and Rosewood, which are still on the air.
ABC ordered the most pilots this season by a wide margin. With the bulk of its comedy lineup looking good to come back — including the renewed The Middle, in-negotiations and expected to return Modern Family and The Goldbergs, shoo-ins Black-ish and American Housewife and likely Fresh Off the Boat, Speechless and Last Man Standing — the network is setting up possibly the toughest comedy pilot field this year with 12 of them, including spinoffs from Black-ish and The Goldbergs, plus a presentation, vying for a handful of spots.
The taping of multi-camera pilot Household Name, starring comedy legend Carol Burnett, was the hottest ticket in town this season. Disney-ABC’s Ben Sherwood and NBC’s Bob Greenblatt, whose studio Uni TV produces the pilot, were both in the audience at the well-received taping, in which Burnett received a thunderous applause when she made her entrance. Household Name could be a companion for ABC’s long-running multi-camera comedy Last Man Standing, toplined by Tim Allen. And if the project for some reason doesn’t make the cut at ABC, there is a possibility for it at Uni TV sibling NBC, which was not in the multi-camera sitcom market when Household Name was originally pitched but now very much is with the January pickup of a new season of Will & Grace.
On the single-camera front, there is early buzz on the Diablo Cody-Berlanti Prods. family comedy Raised by Wolves and Zach Braff’s Start Up. There also seems to be early internal support for The Goldbergs spinoff, military family comedy Charlie Foxtrot and Nahnatchka Khan’s Jalen vs. Everybody. Libby & Malcolm stormed into pilot season in December as a clear front-runner, the first pilot of the season to get a green light with top talent in front (Felicity Huffman, Courtney B. Vance) and behind the camera (Kenya Barris, Vijal Patel). It hasn’t been a smooth sailing since, and there have been reshoots. I hear the changes have been received well, and there is a will to make the project work based on the auspices involved. There is not a lot of early chatter on the Black-ish planted spinoff — we might know more after the backdoor episode airs — though there is some preliminary chatter about Barris’ third pilot, the hourlong CIA show Unit Zero starring Toni Collette.
Desperate Housewives creator Marc Cherry is inching closer to an ABC return with solid early buzz for his small-town drama pilot starring Reba McEntire. The latest Shondaland entry, the Paul William Davies legal drama, also looks promising, especially if the TGIT lineup gets a spring vacancy for next season if the struggling The Catch is not renewed. The illusionist FBI drama, Deception, from Chris Fedak and Berlanti Prods., is one of the high-end, big-budget hourlong pilots this year, so expectations are high for it. And the biblically themed The Gospel of Kevin is getting some good notices for star Jason Ritter. ABC already has one new drama series picked up for next fall, Marvel’s Inhumans.
One of the first pilots Bob Greenblatt, a longtime musical theater aficionado, picked up days after officially joining NBC in January 2011 was the Broadway-themed Smash, which he had developed at Showtime. Six years later, the network is returning to the arena with the drama pilot Rise (aka Drama High), about a high school drama department. The pilot, from Jason Katims and Hamilton‘s Jeffrey Seller, has been getting a strong early buzz. Also getting promising early mentions is VR drama Reverie.
On the comedy side, the Charlie Grandy-Mindy Kaling pilot Champions has been garnering attention, along with the Tina Fey-produced Busy Philipps-Casey Wilson starrer The Sackett Sisters, likely for midseason. NBC and ABC’s comedy pilot swap might carry on to the series stage, with the ABC Studios-produced What About Barb? buzzy in the early going at NBC, whose studio is behind ABC’s Household Name. Also mentioned as a possibility is the Bill Lawrence-produced Spaced Out.
CBS already has renewed 19 series, including 16 comedies and dramas. The network traditionally has picked up two or three new comedy series. It already has one new half-hour series for next fall, The Big Bang prequel Young Sheldon, expected to launch behind the mothership series. The single-camera Young Sheldon, about Jim Parson’s character as a 9-year-old boy growing up in Texas, already filmed the pilot episode. Among the regular CBS pilots, the Mark Feuerstein-Dana Klein multi-camera family comedy 9J, 9K & 9L has been an early standout. It is the first project out of producer Aaron Kaplan’s joint venture with CBS. Indicating how high the network is on Young Sheldon and 9 J, 9K & 9L, CBS Corp. CEO Leslie Moonves, who rarely goes to table reads these days, attended the table reads for both comedies. (9J, 9K & 9L does not tape until next week.) Beyond that, things are murky, with a couple of possibilities, including Me, Myself & I.
On the hourlong side, cop drama Instinct starring Alan Cumming is being talked about early on, along with the SEAL project starring David Boreanaz. There also are high expectations for the Justin Lin-directed S.W.A.T, a big-budget actioner like the previous CBS pilot Lin directed, Scorpion. which went to series. Other possibilities include the timely journalism drama The Get. Mission Control, which has had a rough going with two showrunner changes, also is mentioned despite the challenges.
Even before the 2016-17 buying season had officially begun last summer, the Dynasty reboot — at the time still being packaged internally at CBS TV Studios — already had the CW executives all pumped up. The pilot, which is bringing the CW back into the primetime soap arena, has been a frontrunner from the get-go, and it’s hard to imagine it not going to series unless it screens and tests very poorly.
Two years ago, the CW had a DC title, Legends of Tomorrow, and its superhero uber producer Greg Berlanti attached to a trailer, a premise and a cast but no full pilot. The network picked up the project, and the series has already been renewed for a third season. This year, the CW ordered Black Lightning to pilot at the last minute in a turnaround from Fox. Because the original script had been written for Fox, it was not used, with the project filming a shorter presentation instead. The presentation once again is based by a DC property and has Berlanti producing, making Black Lightning a hot prospect.
Before Black Lightning became a possibility, the CW had another high-profile Berlanti drama project, Searchers, high on its list. It is still very much in the running. And then there is the comedy beat, where the CW scored with Jane the Virgin and Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, both Golden Globe winners, and largely missed with No Tomorrow this season. (Interestingly, the apocalyptic hourlong comedy, which is facing a certain cancellation, just landed its first awards recognition. It came from abroad, a best comedy series nomination at the Monte Carlo Golden Nymph Awards.) If the CW decides to add a new comedy series for a fourth consecutive year, it has two contenders, both with established young stars, Life Sentence with Lucy Hale and Insatiable with Debby Ryan.