Once again the broadcast upfronts are upon us. With less than a month until the five nets start to unveil their fall plans in New York, it’s time to begin our favorite guessing game of which pilots are likely to make it to series for next season. It is still early and many pilots have yet to be completed or even delivered, but there are some early standouts, like Fox’s comedy The New Girl and ABC’s Don’t Hate The Bitch In Apt. 23. I hear these two have ranked as 20th TV’s highest-testing comedy pilots in 10 years. After a season of no breakout comedy series, the genre might do well next season if strong preliminary pilot buzz is any indication. So here is early intelligence on what looks hot (and not) at the broadcast networks. (If your favorite pilot is not mentioned, it doesn’t mean it’s doomed: it just mean I don’t have enough intel on it yet. Check back for my next Pilot Panic update next week.)
Despite disappointing performance from most of Fox’s new series, especially on the drama side, the network doesn’t have many needs for next season with X Factor launching in the fall, all animated comedies already renewed, plus Raising Hope and Fringe, and midseason comedy Breaking In also in the mix. With two new animated series, Napoleon Dynamite and Allen Gregory, also on tap for 2011-12, and the renewal deals for Bones and House bound to close, there really isn’t much space for new scripted fare. Especially if Human Target gets renewed for a possible pairing with Fringe on Friday. And with the Kiefer Sutherland-Tim Kring pilot Touch, which won’t film until June, looking very likely for a midseason order.
All hail THE NEW GIRL! Great early buzz on Liz Meriwether’s comedy pilot directed by Jake Kasdan and starring Zooey Deschanel as an unlucky-in-love teacher who moves in with three unruly guys. The pilot has been testing through the roof and appears a shoe-in for a series pickup.
The Shawn Levy-directed comedy pilot FAMILY ALBUM is not such a slam-dunk but has a lot going going for it, including stars Mike O’Malley and Rachael Harris, and is considered a solid contender. Also promising, largely because of its star Jaime Pressly, is multicamera comedy pilot I HATE MY TEENAGE DAUGHTER.
Word is Peter Tolan’s comedy COUNCIL OF DADS, which had been hot, is cooling off and may undergo some retooling, while another comedy pilot, OUTNUMBERED, which was ordered off-cycle, is dead.
On the drama side, another early order, the J.J. Abrams-produced ALCATRAZ, is getting strong early reviews. We will have a better idea of the chances of The Bones spinoff THE FINDER on Friday, after the planted spinoff airs Thursday night. According to early reconnaissance, it is a strong Bones episode and star Geoff Stults is said to be pretty appealing in the lead role.
LOCKE & KEY: Because of its strong pedigree, the project based on the graphic novel had been considered an early frontrunner but so far reaction has been mixed, with the pilot described as a bit long and slow.
With only 1-2 freshman ABC series having a real shot at returning next season, the network has a lot of needs, even more so if veteran Brothers & Sisters doesn’t cheat death for a second consecutive year. And new topper Paul Lee will certainly be eager to put his own stamp with product he developed.
Shonda Rhimes’ DAMAGE CONTROL: Can we finally get a successful broadcast drama series with a Black lead? Early reaction to the crisis management drama starring Kerry Washington has been very positive, and with Rhimes behind it, the pilot is destined for a frontrunner status.
CHARLIE’S ANGELS came in solid, and with a pre-sold title, it is considered a major contender.
Also strong out of the gate is the period soap PAN AM, directed by Tommy Schlamme. Despite some rumblings about some of the performances, the pilot has been getting a rousing reaction, including applause, and has been described as “gorgeous.”
Also getting early thumbs-up on the drama side are the contemporary female take on The Count of Monte Cristo REVENGE, Southern soap GOOD CHRISTIAN BITCHES and period procedural POE. Also having fans at the network and ABC Studios is the Mark Gordon-produced IDENTITY though some question whether a straight ensemble procedural can work on ABC, which has struggled to launch one with Detroit 1-8-7 this season.
Thriller THE RIVER if getting good early buzz, especially for the work of director Jaume Collet-Serra. But, because it is in the style of Paranormal Activity, with the action recorded by a dozen cameras, the pilot will have to undergo extensive post-production before it can be properly evaluated.
Early reaction to Marc Cherry’s spiritual drama HALLELUJAH has been that it looks “weird,” but given its pedigree, the project cannot be discounted. One drama pilot that I hear negative buzz about is female cop show PARTNERS.
It seems like Jason Winer has done it again! The director of the pilot for ABC’s Modern Family, directed another ABC pilot, DON’T TRUST THE BITCH IN APT. 23, which is testing incredibly well and is getting great reception.
Another very strong half-hour pilot is suburban family comedy SUBURGATORY, which is getting a lot of praise, with SMOTHERED, about 2 sets of grandparents, also coming in solid and co-stars Marcia Gay Harden and Adam Arkin getting rave reviews.
Speaking of stars, I hear Jenna Elfman, the leading lady of comedy pilot BAD MOM, tested very well.
The read for the TIM ALLEN comedy pilot went well, while LOST & FOUND came in just OK.
Boy, where do we begin. NBC is in such a bad shape, especially on the drama side, that Law & Order: SVU might be the only returning drama series the network brings back next season, plus possibly midseason entry Harry’s Law. With everything else doing so poorly, Chuck might beat the odds once again, but one thing is for sure: new NBC chief Bib Greenblatt will have to pick up a lot of new series, especially on the drama side.
One that seems a slam-dunk is the Broadway-themed SMASH, starring Debra Messing. An old passion project of Greenblatt’s from his days at Showtime, the pilot is getting strong early buzz. People describe the sets for the show as “amazing” and executive producer Steven Spielberg, who rarely gets personally involved in TV production, was reportedly wired into the filming and has been regularly sending notes. Some go as far as suggesting SMASH could land in the Thursday 10 PM slot in the fall.
Also getting positive buzz is another drama pilot with elaborate sets, Michael Patrick King’s aging hairdresser show A MANN’s WORLD starring Don Johnson (I hear they dug out a pool on the soundstage!), especially for Johnson’s performance. It will be fun to see 61-year-old Johnson and 62-year-old Harry’s Law star Kathy Bates taking over NBC next fall!
Also looking good is period drama PLAYBOY, which has been testing well, especially with women, and is getting positive early feedback. It’s been described as “very stylish.”
PRIME SUSPECT just wrapped but has been an early favorite based on the pedigree and the cast, led by Maria Bello.
Both NBC comedy pilots from top female comediennes, Chelsey Handler’s ARE YOU THERE VODKA? IT’S ME, CHELSEA and The untitled WHITNEY CUMMINGS untitled half-hour, are looking good at this stage. Also looking solid is Peter Tolan’s workplace comedy BRAVE NEW WORLD, with positive buzz also surrounding the UNTITLED DAN GOOR pilot and the Amanda Peet-starring romantic comedy BENT.
The multicamera LOVELIVES is getting mixed reviews, while I HATE THAT I LOVE YOU does not look good.
But if there a sure thing, that is probably the UNTITLED EMILY SPIVEY pilot, sight unseen, given Lorne Michael’s involvement as an executive producer and the stellar cast featuring Christina Applegate, Will Arnett and Maya Rudolph.
Once again, CBS does not have too many hole to fill even though, with the exception of Hawaii Five-0, most of its freshman series have been underperforming.
Early standouts on the drama side are the Jonathan Demme-directed SUSANNAH GRANT medical drama, the James Mangold-directed ensemble cop drama ROOKIES and buddy P.I. show HAIL MARY, largely on the appeal of star Minnie Driver, said to be great in the role.
On the comedy side, the UNTITLED ROB SCHNEIDER multi-ethnic family comedy pilot tested well, and I hear the taping for the Rob Riggle-starring HOME GAME went great.
Meanwhile, the UNTITLED PETER KNIGHT office comedy is said to be having some problems.
Word is CW brass like the young attorney-angel pairing in HEAVENLY and another duo, the fashion-loving young female cops in COOPER & STONE.
Zombie drama AWAKENING has had a lot of fans since the script stage, while, despite not delivered yet, witch tale THE SECRET CIRCLE is riding high on the strength of its showrunner Kevin Williamson.
HART OF DIXIE: I hear there have been issues with the medical drama starring Rachel Bilson. First, while gorgeous on screen, I hear Bilson is not particularly believable as a doctor (she delivers a baby in the pilot no less!).
DANNI LOWINSKI: Early bird did not catch the worm in this case as I hear this pilot ordered early on is not looking good.
TV Editor Nellie Andreeva - tip her here.