Hostages‘ Dylan McDermott is set as the male lead in another CBS/Warner Bros TV drama project, the untitled Kevin Williamson pilot. The casting cements the fate of serialized thriller Hostages, which was not expected to continue beyond the initial …
Ray Richmond is contributing to Deadline’s TCA coverage.
The Following creator and exec producer Kevin Williamson was obliged to defend the jarring level of sex and violence (particularly violence) in his new Fox horror thriller as the network kicked off its day at TCA this morning. In the wake of the mass killings last year in Aurora, CO and Newtown, CT, critics peppered Williamson with questions about whether television shows like this one may be part of the problem. His general response wasn’t defensive so much as uncertain. “I think we all worry about (the violence issue),” Williamson admitted. “Who wasn’t affected by Sandy Hook? We say in the writers room after that and were all traumatized by it.” But he was somewhat befuddled over whether the graphic violence and gore of a series like The Following might contribute negatively to perceptions of violence in society. His show, after all, depicts a woman stabbing herself in the eye and strangers being randomly set afire in the street. He acknowledged that he isn’t sure if there is a cumulative effect of all of the violence on his own orientation. “I know that when I put pen to paper, it affects me, but I’m not sure how,” Williamson said. “We don’t sit around (in the writers room) and think of ways to kill people. I’m sitting and thinking of the drama. It’s meant to be a thriller and a provocative story. I guess it is a horrific and scary show but…”
At the same time, Williamson acknowledged that the violence at Columbine many years ago absolutely inspired Following. “The story is shining a light on some of those kids,” he said. But he added that the show is meant to be “a work of fiction.” And the network hasn’t tried to scale back the level of violence, he maintained. The bigger struggle for him has been continuing to deal with the six-act structure of broadcast television and “how to make something scary when you’re writing to a commercial break.” To that end, he said that the Fox drama 24 remains “like my favorite show of all time…That sort of thrill-ride and page-turner tone is what I’m going for with this show.”
UPDATE 6:45 PM: No comedy pilots remain in contention at Fox as the network has passed on Rebounding, El Jefe, Prodigy Bully, Little Brother, Let It Go, Like Father and Living Loaded. Rebounding and El Jefe are being shopped to other networks. On the drama side, the only pilot still alive is the Cuba Gooding Jr legal drama Guilty, which was a strong contender for a series pickup. I hear the network brass decided to take a few weeks before making a decision on it, so we won’t hear right away.
UPDATE 5:30 PM: Here it is — the series pickup of the heavily favored Kevin Williamson drama pilot starring Kevin Bacon, now titled The Following (I hope Fox changes that). Because Bacon committed to only doing 15 episodes a season, the order for the Williamson project will likely be for midseason. The project, from Warner Bros TV, is a thriller about ex-FBI agent Ryan Hardy (Bacon) who leads the search to catch diabolical serial killer Joe Carroll (James Purefoy) who has created a cult of serial killers. Marcos Siega directed the pilot, which co-starred Shawn Ashmore, Natalie Zea, Valorie Curry, Jeananne Goossen, Nico Tortorella, Adan Canto, Billy Brown.
UPDATE 5:15 PM: Fox started its new drama series pickups with the Josh Berman/Robert Wright drama starring Jordana Spiro as a young female thoracic surgeon with Bridgeport roots who juggles two worlds as she juggles her career and her lifelong debt to the South Chicago mob. The series, now titled The Mob Doctor, is produced by Sony TV and executive produced by Berman, Wright and Michael Dinner who directed the pilot. The pickup of Mob Doctor assures a continuation of the medical drama genre on Fox whose veteran series House departs this month. I’m still waiting to get confirmation on the Kevin Williamson powerhouse drama pilot, with Guilty also in strong contention.
The Mindy Kaling single-camera comedy, now titled It’s Messy, was created by and stars The Office standout as a Young Bridget-Jones type doctor trying to navigate both her personal and professional lives. Fox picked up the project in a turnaround when NBC passed on the script, and the pilot has been a favorite of Fox’s brass from the script stage. It is earmarked as a potential companion for the network’s freshman breakout New Girl. Along with Kaling, Serving as an executive producer on the pilot was her Office co-star BJ Novak. The pickup continues Universal TV’s presence on Fox — the studio also produces the network’s departing drama House. However, House was sold by Universal before its merger with NBC, so this marks the first series order for the recently-revamped Universal TV at Fox or any non-NBC network.
(RE-POSTED FROM FRIDAY): Back by popular demand: Deadline’s Pilot Buzz lists. We’re earlier than normal this year while pilots have generally been late, with only a handful of them having cuts by now and the vast majority still in various stages of production. Therefore, everything on this list has to be taken with a gigantic grain of salt as a lot could change between a table read and a final cut. Take NBC’s comedy pilot SAVE ME for example. After some mixed and even negative chatter early on, mostly related to the tone of the show, originally developed for Showtime, the tide changed completely over the last two days when people saw the completed pilot, which is getting high marks. The list also doesn’t cover every pilot as some of them have not gotten into production yet or feedback has been insufficient:
The network already has one new scripted series on tap for next season, HANNIBAL, which I hear may go for midseason. With the network in such bad shape after years of neglect and bad decisions by previous regimes, NBC seems to have cast a very wide net this season, developing a vast range of projects that are all over the map, making it harder to handicap. On the drama side, mystery MIDNIGHT SUN and the Jekyll & Hyde-esque DO NO HARM are getting some solid early buzz. The Jason Katims/Jason Ritter medical drama COUNTY, which just wrapped, also has been getting positive feedback. Western-esque THE FRONTIER, which is shooting in Australia, is getting notices for its rich look. Comedy-wise, ANIMAL KINGDOM is hot, as is White House family comedy 1600 PENN, despite a last-minute recasting, as well as the Matthew Perry starrer GO ON and Greg Daniels’ FRIDAY NIGHT DINNER. The network also is high on a couple of multi-camera comedies, the untitled KARI LIZER and JIMMY FALLON projects, with TABLE FOR THREE also looking encouraging so far. The Ryan Murphy/Ali Adler blended family comedy THE NEW NORMAL is still shooting but, with the auspices involved, it is considered a strong contender. NBC brass seem to like the SARAH SILVERMAN pilot, which had an early order, but Silverman is considered acquired taste, so a lot will depend on testing.
The KEVIN WILLIAMSON project was very strong at the script stage, got even stronger with the casting of Kevin Bacon and James Purefoy, and seems to be sailing through production. Meanwhile the untitled KARYN USHER teen-spy drama, which also was an early standout during the script phase, then hit a speed bump in casting the lead, which took a very long time, now appears to be in great shape, with newcomer Saxon Sharbino getting strong reviews. The Williamson and Karyn projects seem to be the top drama contenders at the moment,
EXCLUSIVE: Kevin Bacon is headed to primetime. In a big casting coup, I’ve learned that the feature actor is set to topline Kevin Williamson’s Fox drama pilot. This marks the first major series role for Bacon who had been heavily pursued by broadcast and cable networks for years. But in a twist, I hear that Bacon has committed to doing 15 episodes a season vs. the standard 22 for a broadcast series. That lightens the load on the actor who can continue to do multiple features a year and spend time with his family. It also plays into Fox’s strategy of exploring new ways for airing shows, something Fox entertainment president Kevin Reilly talked about at TCA last month. The high quality of many cable drama series is being attributed in part to shorter seasons that allows for tighter, more compelling storytelling.
The untitled Kevin Williamson project, from Warner Bros TV and Williamson’s studio-based Outerbanks Entertainment, is described as an edge-of-the-seat thriller about a diabolical serial killer who uses technology to create a cult of serial killers, and a retired FBI profiler (Bacon) who finds himself in the middle of it. The genre of the project and the casting of Bacon is reminiscent of Fox’s signature thriller 24, which also tapped a feature actor, Kiefer Sutherland, for its lead. Marcos Siega recently signed on to direct the pilot, written and executive produced by Williamson, creator of Dawson’s Creek, the hit Scream horror movie franchise and co-creator/executive producer of the CW’s Vampire Diaries and Secret Circle.
EXCLUSIVE: Kevin Williamson and David E. Kelley have tapped directors-producers of their existing series to helm their new pilots. Marcos Siega, who directed the pilot for Williamson’s hit The Vampire Diaries and served as a co-executive producer on the CW show, will direct Williamson’s untitled Fox drama pilot. Meanwhile, Kelley’s …
Diane Haithman is contributing to Deadline’s coverage of TCA.
According to executive producer Kevin Williamson, there won’t be any guest crossover, or story crossover, between the CW’s The Vampire Diaries and the network’s new series The Secret Circle, making its debut Sept. 15. Even though both series are based on supernatural book series by the same teen-appeal author, L.J. Smith, Williamson told a TCA audience today that an effort is being made to keep the shows separate. The witch mythology of Secret Circle and the vampire-werewolf-occasional witch mythology of Vampire Diaries, he said, just don’t mix. “I don’t think you’ll see that crossover,” he said. “That would kind of limit us. We want to create our own story.”
EXCLUSIVE: Exactly two months after he joined the upcoming CW drama series The Secret Circle as an executive producer, Richard Hatem has been let go for creative differences. Executive producer Kevin Williamson, who came on board the project in February and rewrote the original script by Andrew Miller, is running the series, which he executive produces with Miller and Alloys Entertainment’s Leslie Morgenstein and Gina Girolamo. “Kevin has a vision, and they just didn’t see eye-to-eye creatively,” a source close to the show said. I understand that Hatem is staying in business with Secret Circle producer Warner Bros TV through a development arrangement, which is now being finalized. It is not clear whether Hatem will be replaced on Secret Circle. Before him, there were two other writing executive producers, Elizabeth Craft and Sarah Fain, who had originally developed the project with Miller, but they departed in March after the Williamson’s script was picked up to pilot with him as showrunner. Hatem wrote and executive produced another CW drama pilot this past season, Heavenly, and then joined Secret Circle in late May after his pilot was not picked up to series by the network.
Here is the second-annual honor roll of the best and brightest at the broadcast upfront. First off, to all who got their pilots picked up to series — congratulations. You’re already winners. This is a list of those who took their upfront success to an extra level:
Whitney Cummings: The undisputed queen of Upfront 2011. She is behind two new comedy series that are among the highest-profile new half-hour entries next fall. She created, stars in and executive produces her eponymous comedy for NBC, which was assigned the network’s best comedy slot, following The Office. She also co-wrote on spec with Michael Patrick King the CBS comedy 2 Broke Girls, which broke records as CBS’ best-testing pilot (comedy or drama) ever. Both were the first comedy pilots to get a series order at their networks. Cummings, who also has a talk show in contention at E!, will serve as an executive producer on 2 Broke Girls but will be full-time on Whitney, which was in first position. I hope that doesn’t impact 2 Broke Girls, which King is expected to run/co-run, because the pilot indeed looks great. Honorable mention in the category of creators with multiple projects for Andrew Reich and Ted Cohen. One of their two ABC pilots, Work It, was picked up to series, while the other, Smothered, is very much in contention for midseason.
What a comeback for J.J. Abrams! After his high-profile NBC drama Undercovers went bust last fall, some questioned whether the networks will continue to bet on him. But bet they did this upfront, with both pilots he produced, CBS’ Person of Interest and Fox’s Alcatraz, going to series. Person of Interest instantly became one of the most anticipated new fall series when CBS made it its new Thursday 9 PM anchor. The network also said it was its best-testing drama pilot ever. And over at Fox, Alcatraz prevailed over several high-profile pilots to land one of only two drama series spots. Then, as icing on the cake, Abrams’ modestly rated but well-liked Fox sci-fi series Fringe got a renewal for next season, bringing the producer’s series for next season to three.
EXCLUSIVE: Elizabeth Craft and Sarah Fain have stepped down as executive producers on the CW drama pilot The Secret Circle, based on a three-book series from The Vampire Diaries author L.J. Smith. Under their Warner Bros TV overall deal, the Angel and Dollhouse alums last summer were assigned to supervise …