We’re heading into the homestretch of pilot season as the broadcast networks are beginning to view and test the completed pilots, a process that will continue for about two weeks before the nets move on to making pickup and scheduling decisions. Based on buzz around town, here are the most talked-about pilots three weeks before the upfronts.
Related: PILOTS 2014: Early Buzz Edition
Every year, there is at least one pilot that comes out of nowhere and surprises everyone. We may have that this season in ABC‘s multi-camera Cristela. It was not even supposed to be a pilot. Developed at 20th TV-based 21 Laps/Adelstein for more than a year, the semi-autobiographical project co-created by and starring rising Latina stand-up comedian Cristela Alonzo was sold to ABC last summer with significant penalty. But when pilot-pickup time came along, ABC quickly loaded on high-profile sitcoms, including the 20th TV-produced The Winklers, starring Henry Winkler, and the untitled Kevin Hart project starring Romany Malco. Cristela didn’t get a pilot order, but the producers, who also are behind ABC’s Tim Allen sitcom Last Man Standing, decided to take the penalty, which I hear was about $500,000, and use it to shoot a presentation. (ABC called it “proof of concept.”) Cristela ended up filming a full-length pilot on the stage of Last Man Standing using that sitcom’s crew, led by director/co-exec producer John Pasquin, with very little time to rehearse and prep. Because it was supposed to be a presentation, Cristela was not budgeted to get a testing, but I hear 20th TV brass liked the finished product and had it tested. I hear the results blew expectations, with Alonzo, who has no previous acting experience, scoring higher than most stars in recent 20th TV comedy pilots, including Allen, New Girl‘s Zooey Deschanel and The Crazy Ones‘ Robin Williams.
ABC next season might have one of the most diverse slates of new series in recent memory, with several pilots garnering early buzz: Cristela; two black family comedies with the untitled Kevin Hart and untitled Anthony Anderson projects; the Shonda Rhimes-produced drama How To Get Away With Murder starring Viola Davis; and the race-themed American Crime. How To Get Away With Murder, written by Peter Nowalk, appears a lock on the drama side, with Ridley’s American Crime also heating up. Serialzed thrillers Secrets & Lies and Sea Of Fire are getting buzz, with limited series orders a possibility. Also getting early attention are two dramas with a young woman at the center: Agatha and Clementine. Word is that one of them might go to series, with Agatha having an edge at the moment. Alien drama The Visitors is considered a dark horse. Then there is the potential ABC drama series that no one is allowed to talk about: Marvel’s top-secret Agent Carter.
On the comedy side, musical fairytale Galavant continues to look strong. The Kevin Hart and Anthony Anderson projects also are getting buzz, with at least one likely to get a pickup. (Between the two, Kevin Hart appears to be ahead at the moment.) Also talked about early on is Irreversible, toplined by former Friends star David Schwimmer, with the Michael Imperioli starrer Saint Francis and My Thoughts Exactly as possibilities.
Competition is already fierce at CBS, which could pick up as few as two new comedy and two new drama series (though three, especially on the comedy side, seems to be a possibility). There are already several strong half-hour pilots, the How I Met Your Mother spinoff How I Met Your Dad; two standup-driven vehicles, Tom Papa’s More Time With Family and the untitled Jim Gaffigan project; as well as Matthew Perry’s The Odd Couple reboot, which had a solid taping.
Drama-wise, the NCIS spinoff starring Scott Bakula is going strong. The Tea Leoni-starring Madam Secretary is gaining momentum, with the John Cusack-produced Wall Street drama and the untitled Kevin Williamson thriller also talked about, the CSI spinoff starring Patricia Arquette very much in the mix and terrorism drama Red Zone, which would bring Without A Trace star Anthony LaPaglia back to CBS, also mentioned. (Vince Gilligan-David Shore’s Battle Creek has a straight-to-series order.)
Related: PILOT SEASON 2014: The Overachievers
At NBC, DC Comics-based Constantine looks solid, as does McG-directed The Mysteries of Laura starring Debra Messing. The Katherine Heigl starrer State Of Affairs is tracking well with The Blacklist‘s Joe Carnahan at the helm. The project is working on a succession plan as Carnahan is busy on The Blacklist and only signed on for the pilot while Alexi Hawley, who wrote the original script, will be leaving. Futuristic drama Tin Man might have cooled off a bit, and thriller Coercion and family saga Salvation also are being mentioned.
On the half-hour side, 1960s space race comedy Mission Control and David Caspe’s couple comedy Marry Me continue to get solid buzz, along with romantic comedy A to Z. Also said to be in the mix are several starring vehicles: Ellen More Or Less, whose lead, young Canadian actress-comedian Stacey McGunnigle, has been hailed as one of the breakouts of this pilot season; the Natasha Lyonne starrer Old Soul; the Rob Lowe-Rob Riggle comedy The Pro; Mary-Louise Parker’s Feed Me; and Kate Walsh’s Bad Judge, as well as odd couple comedy Lifesaver. The network already has series orders for the Tina Fey/Robert Carlock comedy starring Ellie Kemper and the Craig Robinson vehicle Mr. Robinson.
Related: Primetime Pilot Panic
The projects on Fox’s slate are on different tracks under the network’s new model, with only three drama pilots in consideration: Batman prequel Gotham, hip-hop themed Empire and coming-of-age hospital drama Red Band Society starring Octavia Spencer. Gotham continues to march toward a pickup, with the other two also in contention.
In the past three years, Fox had an early front-runner on the comedy side: New Girl in 2011, The Mindy Project the following year and Brooklyn Nine-Nine last spring. There doesn’t seem to be an overwhelming early favorite this season though Sober Companion, starring Nick Frost and Justin Long, is yet to be completed, with early feedback encouraging. Of the others, Matt Hubbard’s Cabot College appears to be the most promising, with Fatrick‘s reworked pilot said to be a major improvement. Fox has three comedies (Mulaney, Last Man On Earth and Weird Loners) as well as two dramas (Backstrom, Hieroglyph) picked up straight to series.
The Flash is getting rave early reviews and, already penciled for the schedule, now could be written in with a permanent marker. The other DC Comics-based CW pilot, iZombie, also continues to go strong, with sci-fi saga The Messengers heating up. Overall, all six pilots appear to be in the mix, though the Supernatural spinoff does not seen to be as sure thing as the Vampire Diaries‘ planted spinoff was last season.
TV Editor Nellie Andreeva - tip her here.