The decline in broadcast pilots continues. CBS has ordered its fewest drama pilots ever in a pilot season: two. Also part of a trend, both are based on IP from established auspices and big-name talent already attached — Robert and Michelle King’s Elsbeth starring Carrie Preston, a police procedural spinoff of the Kings’ The Good Wife/Good Fight universe, and Matlock, a gender-swap reboot of the classic legal drama starring Kathy Bates, from Jennie Snyder Urman and Eric Christian Olsen.
Along with the two pilot orders for the 2023-24 season, CBS also ordered writers rooms for two medical drama projects — The Pact, from writer Marcus Dalzine and the NAACP/CBS Studios production venture; and Watson, from Craig Sweeny and Kapital — which are being put on track for potential straight-to-series orders targeting the following 2024-2025 season.
Put in development by the previous CBS regime of Kelly Kahl and Thom Sherman, the projects — all from CBS Studios — were picked up by the network’s new entertainment president Amy Reisenbach in her first pilot season at the helm. Comedy pilot orders will be coming next.
CBS doesn’t have a lot of needs for next season as its schedule has been pretty stable, stacked with established drama procedural franchises like FBI and NCIS, as well as a solid freshman class of Fire Country, East New York and So Help Me Todd, all of which earned full-season orders. Fire Country has already been renewed for a second season.
For now, there is only one guaranteed open slot as NCIS: LA is ending its run this season, but CBS already has one new drama series on deck for next season, The Never Game, starring Justin Hartley, which originated as an off-cycle pilot, a strategy the network plans to continue to employ.
CBS leaning heavy into IP with three of the four projects — Elsbeth, Matlock and Watson, the latter about Sherlock Holmes’ partner, Dr. John Watson — is reminiscent of the network’s 2020-2021 and 2021-22 lineups when all but one of the picked up new drama series were based on existing titles (Clarice, The Equalizer, FBI: International, CSI: Vegas, and NCIS: Hawai’i).
Elsbeth extends The Good Wife franchise and brings it back to broadcast where it started with the original legal drama created by the Kings. They went on to help launch the streaming service that became Paramount+ with offshoot The Good Fight.
Preston’s Elsbeth Tascioni, an astute but unconventional attorney, was a breakout on The Good Wife where she heavily recurred. She then reprised the fan-favorite role in five episodes of The Good Fight. Elsbeth is now getting her own series, in which she will utilize her singular point of view to make unique observations and corner brilliant criminals alongside the NYPD.
I hear the project, which demonstrates a collaborative relationship between CBS and Paramount+ that has allowed for a franchise to jump back and forth between broadcast and streaming, was developed as a broadcast procedural for CBS.
In Matlock, written by Jane the Virgin creator Jennie Snyder Urman and inspired by the classic TV series starring Andy Griffith, after achieving success in her younger years, the brilliant septuagenarian Madeline Matlock (Bates) rejoins the work force at a prestigious law firm where she uses her unassuming demeanor and wily tactics to win cases and expose corruption from within.
I hear the new show and its heroine will have a tie to the original Matlock, created by Dean Hargrove, which starred Griffith as criminal defense attorney Ben Matlock, a renowned, folksy and popular though cantankerous attorney.
Matlock, which is part of the CBS Studios library, aired from 1986-1992 on NBC before moving to ABC for three more seasons.
This marks a return to broadcast — and the legal drama field — for Bates a decade after NBC canceled her previous broadcast series, David E. Kelley’s Harry’s Law, even though it was the network’s most watched drama series, in large part because its audience skewed older. Bates, who boarded Matlock after reading Urman’s script, didn’t mince words at the time.
“I think they treated us like sh*t. They kicked us to the curb. They disrespected us; they disrespected our 7 [million to]-11 million viewers,” she said.
CBS would be a much better fit as the network for years has been focused on total viewership and not demos and has multiple long-running series fronted by actors who, like Bates, are in their 70s, including Blue Bloods with Tom Selleck and NCIS, until recently headlined by Mark Harmon.
The writers-room order for The Pact, based on the book The Pact: Three Young Men Make a Promise and Fulfill a Dream, comes in the second development season for the NAACP production venture with CBS Studios, run by president Sheila Ducksworth. In it, after a childhood pact leads three friends from inner-city Newark to become doctors, they reunite in their hometown to open a medical center to serve their community.
Watson, a medical drama with detective elements based on the characters created by Arthur Conan Doyle, was written by Sweeny, who spent five years on CBS’ Sherlock Holmes/Dr. Watson procedural Elementary, most of them as executive producer. In it, a year after the death of his friend and partner Sherlock Holmes at the hands of Moriarty, Dr. John Watson resumes his medical career as the head of a clinic dedicated to treating rare disorders.
Here are details about CBS’ drama pilot and writers room orders:
STUDIO: CBS Studios
EP/W/D: Robert King (The Good Wife, The Good Fight, Evil) (King Size Productions)
EP/W: Michelle King (The Good Wife, The Good Fight, Evil) (King Size Productions)
EP/NW: Liz Glotzer (The Good Fight, Evil, Your Honor) (King Size Productions)
STAR: Carrie Preston (The Good Wife, The Good Fight, Claws)
LOGLINE: After her successful career in Chicago, Elsbeth Tascioni (Carrie Preston), an astute but unconventional attorney, utilizes her singular point of view to make unique observations and corner brilliant criminals alongside the NYPD. Based on the character featured in The Good Wife and The Good Fight.
STUDIO: CBS Studios
EP/W: Jennie Snyder Urman (Jane The Virgin)
EP/NW: Joanna Klein (Good Sam, Broke)
EP/NW: Eric Christian Olsen (Woke), John Will
STAR/EP: Kathy Bates (Misery, American Horror Story)
LOGLINE: After achieving success in her younger years, the brilliant septuagenarian Madeline Matlock (Kathy Bates) rejoins the work force at a prestigious law firm where she uses her unassuming demeanor and wily tactics to win cases and expose corruption from within. Based on the classic television series of the same name.
THE PACT- CBS Drama Development
W/EP: Marcus Dalzine (Prodigal Son, How To Get Away With Murder)
NW/EP: Sheila Ducksworth (Ambitions, With This Ring), Leon Russell and Derrick Johnson (CBS/NAACP Production Venture)
NW/EP: Dr. Sampson Davis, Dr. George Jenkins and Dr. Rameck Hunt
STUDIO: CBS Studios
LOGLINE: After a childhood pact leads three friends from inner-city Newark to become doctors, they reunite in their hometown to open a medical center to serve their community. Based on the book “The Pact: Three Young Men Make a Promise and Fulfill a Dream” by Dr. Sampson Davis, Dr. George Jenkins, and Dr. Rameck Hunt, with Lisa Frazier Page.
WATSON – CBS Drama Development
W/EP: Craig Sweeny (Elementary, Limitless)
EP: Aaron Kaplan (The Chi, A Million Little Things), Brian Morewitz (A Million Little Things) (Kapital Entertainment)
EP: Shäron Moalem MD, PhD
STUDIO: CBS Studios
LOGLINE: Shortly after the death of his friend and partner Sherlock Holmes at the hands of Moriarty, Dr. John Watson resumes his medical career as the head of a clinic dedicated to treating rare genetic disorders, only to uncover a startling secret that puts him in the crosshairs of Moriarty once again. Inspired by the characters from Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes mysteries.
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