Pilot pickup season finally got in full swing on Friday with seven orders, four at CBS and three at NBC. That is as many as the broadcast networks had ordered since the first of the year combined as network executives are lamenting the fact that scripts are coming in late this season, delaying pilot orders. Pilot casting, on the other hand, has already started. Part frustration over late scripts, part desire to get a jump on talent led to active pilot casting on a half dozen projects last month, before any had been ordered to pilot. The number expanded further in the first two weeks of January. CBS, for instance, did not formally greenlight the Jerry Bruckheimer-produced drama Hostages to pilot last week until Toni Collette was locked in as the lead.
With the fall producing only three series that can qualify as hits, NBC’s Revolution, the CW’s Arrow and CBS’ Elementary, the networks are back to the drawing board and appear on track to order a number of pilots that will be on par with last year’s haul of 89 (including presentations). That could mean dozens of offers for Damages star Rose Byrne who has emerged as the hottest commodity this pilot casting season, attracting virtually every female lead offer. (She appears more inclined to do comedy but has not ruled out headlining drama if the right project presents itself.)
As network brass take a breather for the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday before what is expected to be an avalanche of pilot pickups tomorrow, here is where each stands. (As usual, there will be some curve balls but maybe not as many as in previous years as the January spec market has been pretty tame this time, so the networks will be choosing predominantly from their development slates.)
One of the biggest surprises this year is how aggressive CBS has been. By this time last year, the network had only ordered one pilot, Jon Favreau’s single-camera spec Tweaked, which was never made. This year, the network already has 9 pilots in contention for next season, including the NCIS: LA planted spinoff.
As six comedy pilots have been already greenlighted, the network is almost done with its half-hour orders, with a couple of more scripts probably getting a pickup. I hear among the hopefuls are David E. Kelley’s single-camera comedy starring Robin Williams, Hilary Winston’s Bad Teacher, Dana Klein’s Friends With Better Lives, Kari Lizer’s multi-camera project, Tad Quill’s firefighter single-camera comedy starring David Walton and another single-camera vehicle, Jason Winer, Tami Sagher and Kourtney Kang’s Nerds In Love.
With the network’s orders skewing heavily towards single-camera (four out of six pilots ordered so far), it appears certain that next season CBS will launch its first single-camera comedy series since 2008′s Worst Week. Competition on the comedy side will be fierce as Chuck Lorre’s latest comedy Mom, starring Anna Faris is likely to get on the schedule, along with a new series from Raising Hope and My Name Is Earl creator Greg Garcia after, in an unusual move, the network gave pilot orders to both of his scripts. This past season, the network picked up only two new comedy series, the now-defunct Partners and Friend Me. With How I Met Your Mother secured to come back and CBS working on extending veteran Two And A Half Men, the network may not have many comedy needs unless it decides to expand its Thursday comedy block to two hours.
On the drama side, given CBS’ track record with ordering every planted spinoff from its successful procedural franchises to series (CSI: Miami, CSI: NY, NCIS: LA and Criminal Minds: Suspect Behavior), the proposed NCIS: LA spinoff is all but assured a spot on the schedule. With Elementary certain to be renewed after a high-profile outing after the Super Bowl, shelf space will once again be tight for next season, with CSI: NY as the only obvious target for cancellation. The older-skewing Vegas also is on shaky ground but may find refuge on Fridays. CBS will likely pick up 3-4 more drama pilots in addition to Hostages, The Ordained and the NCIS: LA spinoff. The strongest candidate among the rest is the Beverly Hills Cop sequel series from Shawn Ryan and Eddie Murphy, which has Brandon T. Jackson cast as the lead and $10 million on the line for the network in penalty/license fees. Green light for the project is expected to come as early as tomorrow. Other potential hourlong candidates include Howard Gordon/Alex Gansa’s Anatomy Of Violence, David Mamet’s Have Gun Will Travel reboot, Hart Hanson’s Backstrom, Michael Seitzman’s Intelligence, Dana Stevens’ Reckless, Barbara Hall’s Difficult Women, Craig Turk’s Legacy, Sam Baum’s Surgeon General project and two legal dramas, one from David Magee and one from Danny Strong and David O. Russell.
NBC has been as aggressive as usual with 10 pilots + one presentation (comedy starring Jessica Simpson) already ordered, almost half of what its haul is expected to be (10-12 comedy pilots, 10 dramas). NBC also is the only network to have a new fall 2013 series already picked up, the family/workplace comedy starring Michael J. Fox. Its needs are not as great this year as The Voice successfully expanded to two cycles a season, and the network is likely to bring back at least three first-year series, drama Revolution and comedies Go On and The New Normal, joined by the new Michael J. Fox comedy. Two of NBC’s four drama pilots, medical drama After Hours and mystery The Secret Lives Of Husbands And Wives, were off-cycle orders. After Hours had been garnering some heat for a potential early series order but NBC may wait to see all of its pilots before making any series decisions.
A new drama from Revolution executive producer JJ Abrams, an untitled Alfonso Cuarón project, already has been looking to cast its young lead. Also rumored to be in contention for pilot orders at the network are Anthony Zuiker’s take on Alice In Wonderland, two other ABC Studios projects based on popular character(s), Cleopatra, from Producer Lorenzo Di Bonaventura and writer Michael Seitzman, which I hear may turn into a two-hour movie/backdoor pilot, and a contemporary Hatfields & McCoys from writer John Glenn and producer Charlize Theron. Also in the running are Rand Ravich’s Washington DC thriller, the Carlton Cuse-produced adaptation of comic Sixth Gun, Jon Bokenkamp’s Blacklist and Ben Ripley’s Vanishing Point, which has Angela Bassett attached to star.
NBC’s 6 comedy picks to date skew heavily towards single-camera (6 to 1). They include one project from Greg Daniels, written by Robert Padnick. That may not be it for The Office boss, who has been very prolific this development season. His Owen Ellickson-penned project starring The Office‘s Craig Robinson is among those talked about. Another Universal TV-produced comedy with talent attached, Matt Hubbard’s half-hour starring Community‘s Donald Glover is also hot, with a pickup likely to raise questions about Community‘s future. Other projects in the NBC rumor mill include Liz Tucillo and Bill Lawrence’s Ali In Wonderland, J.J. Philbin’s The High Life, Hilary Winston’s Girls On Film, Mike Sikowitz’s Chuey & Dan and Matt Tarses’ Threesome. SNL honcho Lorne Michaels has a couple of multi-camera contenders, including one penned by SNL writer John Mulaney and one starring the show’s Keenan Thompson. Also likely to get orders are top NBC non-writing producers Dick Wolf and Peter Traugott.
Fox and ABC have been surprisingly slow out of the gate this year. Fox, in particular, has only ordered one pilot so far, the Untitled Dan Goor/Mike Schur comedy starring Andy Samberg, vs. 5 pilots on deck at this time last year. The network is in dire need of hits as none of its fall shows broke through. (Fox’s last and best hope for a successful debut is midseason drama The Following, which premieres tonight.) Fox is looking to pick up about 6 drama pilots and 7-8 comedy pilots. Expected to get the green light as soon as tomorrow is legal drama Rake after star Greg Kinnear signed off on the pilot script, supervised by showrunner Peter Tolan. Also hot at Fox are Karyn Usher’s Delirium, Ruben Fleischer’s US Marshal drama from writer Paul Zbyszewski, Alex Kurtzman and Bob Orci’s Sleepy Hollow, Chris Morgan’s Gang Related, Graham Yost’s The Bridge and maybe one of Jason Katims’ two hourlong projects.
On the comedy side, Bill Lawrence’s I Suck At Girls, Alec Sulkin/Wellesley Wild/Seth MacFarlane’s Dads and the untitled Andrew Gurland/Justin Hurwitz scripts are hot. Also getting attention are David Rosen’s Gavin And Stacey, Sherry Bilsing & Ellen Plummer’s To My Future Assistant, Allyn Rachel & Patrick Carlyle’s Couple Time, Steve Dildarian’s The Commuters, Michael Showalter & Christina Lee’s My Boss Is My Roommate, Jon Zack & Chris Spain’s Sands Of Time, Kay Cannon’s Wrecking Crew and Cathy Yuspa and Josh Goldsmith’s live comedy Live From Our Living Room.
ABC got off to a fast start — greenlighting Adam F. Goldberg’s How the Hell Am I Normal? just before the holiday break in December. But since then, the network has only picked up one more pilot, comedy Mixology. They join three off-cycle pilots, the first Marvel project to get to a pilot stage, Joss Whedon’s S.H.I.E.L.D, which ABC topper Paul Lee recently hinted is likely to go to series, and comedies Trophy Wife, starring Malin Akerman; and Rebel Wilson’s Super Fun Night, a single-camera redo of the multi-camera CBS pilot from last season. ABC, which traditionally orders the most pilots, likely will claim the most volume again, with 10-13 comedy and 10-12 drama pilots. On the comedy side, the Cullen Brothers’ Safe At Home has already been making firm casting offers. Other talked about projects include Jeff Astroff’s Fat, Forty And Fired, Bill Lawrence’s Feel The Force, Lee Eisenberg & Gene Stupnitsky’s adaptation of the British comedy Pulling, Scott Marder’s Big Children, Abby Gewanter’s Now What?, Casey Wilson & June Diane Raphael’s The Housewives and Robert Horn’s Smotherhood.
Drama-wise, David Shore’s legal drama Doubt is looking at casting choices for the lead. Other hopefuls include Hannah Shakespeare’s Killer Women, Kyle Killen’s Influence, David Zabel’s Betrayal, Byron Balasco’s Venice, Noah Hawley’s End Game, Gretchen Berg and Aaron Harberts’ No Rest For the Wicked, Matt Lopez’s The Royals, Sera Gamble/Greg Berlanti’s medical drama, Ron Moore’s A Knight’s Tale and Steve Maeda’s See Of Fire.
The CW is yet to get on the board with traditional pilot orders, though the network already has a frontrunner for the fall schedule in The Originals, a Vampire Diaries planted spinoff. Last year, the network picked up six pilots and two presentations and is once again eyeing to greenlight about 6 hourlong pilots (no comedies). The hopefuls include the Wonder Woman origin story Amazon, which is already casting the lead, Jason Rothenberg’s The Hundred, Taylor Hackford’s Norfolk, Trey Callaway/Sean Hoodsick’s Sick, The Selection, whose new script the CW resident Mark Pedowitz a week ago said was “very well done,” Rob Thomas’ adaptation of Metropolis, and CW’s own Sleepy Hollow project.
TV Editor Nellie Andreeva - tip her here.