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October 25, 2014

Spring TV: Which Pilots Will Crash and Burn?

by Stephanie Earp, posted Mar 23rd 2010 5:32PM


There are two groups of people who get really excited about pilot season: L.A. actors hoping for a break and television writers. Being a member of the latter category, I admit to a tingly feeling creeping over me as word of the shows in development at all the big networks are starting to leak out. While most people are attributing feelings of renewal to the change in the weather, I'm happily anticipating what J.J. Abrams has in store for us this fall.

There are two groups of people who get really excited about pilot season: L.A. actors hoping for a break and television writers. Being a member of the latter category, I admit to a tingly feeling creeping over me as word of the shows in development at all the big networks are starting to leak out. While most people are attributing feelings of renewal to the change in the weather, I'm happily anticipating what J.J. Abrams has in store for us this fall.

For the uninitiated, here's how pilot season works: Show ideas are pitched to networks, usually by established show-runners and production houses. If a star is attached to the pilot, so much the better. If the network likes the idea, they commission a single episode, a pilot, to see how it plays out on screen. Then, the networks' slate of shows are chosen from those pilots, but many of them are never seen again - unless they get leaked on YouTube. As a result, a lot of what I tell you about this week might never make it to your screen. But the actors got paid for being in them, and I got paid for writing this, regardless of whether they get picked up, so you can see why we all get so excited about this time of year.

I'm not telling you that to brag - trust me, my pay is nothing to brag about - but just as fair warning. Read on, and you may think you've discovered the show that will have you glued to the couch come September, only to discover that it didn't make it through the pick-up process. Heartbreak is the risk of pilot season. Steel yourself.

Best Bets


Untitled J.J. Abrams Spy Romp:

The 'Lost' and 'Alias' helmsman is going back to his roots, working with Josh Reims (a writer from the 'Felicity' days), on a new project for NBC. An homage to the campy TV spy shows of yesteryear, it has a 'Mr & Mrs. Smith' feel, featuring a couple who are both spies and are deeply in love. (Syd and Vaughn in the future, with a sense of humour? Sign me up.) No word yet on casting, but Abrams has a habit of finding new female stars for his shows - Keri Russell, Jennifer Garner, Evangeline Lilly - and turning them into household names. I like the idea of seeing J.J's funny side, since the comic relief elements of his work are sometimes stronger than the suspense stuff (think early Charlie and Hurley on 'Lost'.) This show will probably make it to air, since even a pilot with J.J. costs a lot of money, and at NBC, that's in short supply.

Wilde Kingdom:

Fox may have cancelled 'Arrested Development' too soon for fans' tastes, but they know they've got a good thing in show runner Mitch Hurwitz. This comedy features Will Arnett (Job Bluth) as your basic self-centred Beverly Hills a-hole who happens to fall in love with a tree-hugging neo-hippie, who could be played by Keri Russell, if she accepts that leaving TV for the world of features has been at best a mixed blessing for her career. The premise isn't the most original thing in the world, but with Arnett and Hurwitz locked in, it's bound to be funny for at least one season. Casting for the female lead is crucial too though - Russell would be lovely, but if she falls through the trick will be to find someone believably sweet and kind but still smart. Blake Lively maybe?

The Borgias:

Showtime has actually already ordered 13 episodes of this show, so technically it's already past the pilot stage (this happens more on cable than network TV). Jeremy Irons and Colm Feore headline the cast, and the show is set in Italy in 1492. The Borgias family were essentially crime lords, but these master poisoners were hardly outsiders. One plot point has Feore's character trying to make sure the head Borgia (Irons) doesn't get elected Pope. The tricky thing here is to make sure the show is firmly in the 'Rome' camp and doesn't stray too far into 'The Tudors' territory. In other words, it needs to stay fun, have rich female characters, and not worry too much about historical accuracy.



Hedge Your Bets

The Cube:

This successful British game show has been picked up for Americanizing by the only network that could make it work - Fox. The premise is simple - a contestant plays a series of easy games inside a glass cube for increasing amounts of money. The lighting, music and sets are so intimidating that a simple task like putting a ball in a tube becomes next to impossible. I can imagine 'The Cube' being very successful in its first season, but like 'Deal or No Deal' it could get old fast.

Untitled Adam Goldberg Safe-Crackers Comedy:

Christian Slater is set to star as the leader of a group of 20-something security experts. I like the fact that this is a comedy, and I like Christian Slater as a lead on TV. In fact, he's had some success on the small screen lately, but this is the first time he's actually had a pilot up for debate. My reservations are due to the fuzziness of the plot and the mention of a 'womanizing' boss character. I'm so tired of that stereotype.

Hellcats:

It's high time someone brought 'Bring It On' to the small screen, and The CW comes close with this pilot about a competitive college cheerleading team, complete with Ashley Tisdale of 'High School Musical' as the lead mean girl. I've got my fingers crossed that 'Hellcats' will take script cues from 'Buffy' and 'Veronica Mars' but with unproven producer Tom Welling (Clark, 'Smallville') who never seemed all that funny, it's hard to say.



Dead in the Water

Wright vs. Wrong:

Debra Messing (strike one) stars as a Republican pundit (strike two) who tries to maintain her public image and not let details of her personal life get out into the press (strike three - hypocritical politicians are funny now?). My main complaint is the show title, though. The 80s called - it wants its pun back.

S--t My Dad Says:

This potential CBS show is based on a Twitter account. Seriously. And I used to follow the account so I can tell you, there is no way anyone's father actually says all the "s--t" this guys claims his Dad does. Even with William Shatner in the lead role, you can't turn 140 characters into a TV show. Plus, the name will have to change.

Hawaii Five-O:

It seems like every year a big project with a stellar cast goes down in flames. I'm betting this fall it's the CBS re-boot of 'Hawaii Five-O'. Other than the gorgeous location, there isn't much to separate this show from the dozens of other cop/lawyer/crime lab shows debuting, but thanks to the hype, there are much higher expectations. Jean Smart, James Marsters, Daniel Dae Kim, Grace Park and Alex O'Loughlin have been cast and the team behind the latest 'Star Trek' movie are writing. If you think that can't fail, think back to 'Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip.' Anything can fail - that's the bittersweet truth about pilot season.

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