EXCLUSIVE: The CW‘s The Selection reboot has found its queen. CSI and Stargate Universe alumna Louise Lombard has joined the project based on Kiera Cass’ book. The Selection, written by Elizabeth Craft and Sarah Fain and directed by Alex Graves, is an epic romance centering on America Singer (Yael Grobglas), a working-class young woman chosen by lottery to participate in a competition with 25 other women for the Royal Prince’s hand to become the nation’s next queen. Lombard will play the current queen, Queen Amberly. Refined, intelligent and beloved by the people, Queen Amberly is a canny political player within the palace, and knows everything there is to know about every single girl in The Selection competition. The role was played by Leonor Varela in the original pilot last year. Lombard, repped by Paradigm and Affirmative Entertainment, was recently seen in the BBC film Dripping In Chocolate.
British newcomer Celina Sinden has been cast in CW pilot Reign, from CBS TV Studios. It chronicles the rise to power of Mary Queen of Scots (Adelaide Kane) when she arrives in France as a 15-year-old, betrothed to Prince Francis (Toby Regbo), and with her three best friends as ladies-in-waiting. Sinden, who is still in her final year at Guildhall drama school, will play Greer, one of the ladies-in-waiting. She is with Curtis Brown in the UK and attorney Jamie Feldman.
UPDATED: The current fifth season of 90210 will be its last. The CW series has been doing very poorly in the ratings this season in its Monday slot, especially this midseason when it has been paired with The Carrie Diaries. February 18, 90210 drew just 500,000 viewers. Now the series’ May 13 season finale will also be a series finale. Seven episodes remain. “The CW has had five great seasons with America’s favorite zip code, 90210,” CW President Mark Pedowitz said in a release announcing the move. “I’d like to thank the talented cast, producers, and crew for all their hard work and dedication to the series. We are very proud of the West Beverly High alumni.”
Here is an anecdote a producer shared with me during the pitch portion of this development season. He’d taken a writer to a network meeting. The writer poured his heart out pitching a show based on his life, but the network executive appeared uninterested, barely paying attention. As they were heading out, the producer mentioned he also had the rights to a book. Upon hearing the title, the executive’s eyes immediately lit up. “I’ll buy that show,” the exec exclaimed before even hearing what the book was about. This has been the case over and over this season, with the networks going hard and heavy after book adaptations and remakes of TV shows and movies, betting on underlying material as well as the familiar or catchy titles that come with it.
Related: Primetime Pilot Panic Pages
In light of the blockbuster success of two series based on books, HBO’s Game Of Thrones and AMC’s The Walking Dead, there are a slew of literary adaptations this season. The book-driven pilots include CBS‘ dramas Backstrom, based on the Backstrom books by Leif G.W. Persson, and Anatomy Of Violence, inspired by the non-fiction book by Adrian Raine; Fox‘s drama Delirium, based on Lauren Oliver’s book trilogy; Fox’s comedy I Suck At Girls, based on Justin Halpern’s book; NBC comedies Girlfriend in a Coma, based on Douglas Coupland’s book, and Undateable, based on the book by Ellen Rakieten & Anne Coyle; NBC drama The Secret Lives Of Husbands and Wives, inspired by Josie Brown’s novel; the CW dramas The Hundred, based on the books by Kass Morgan, and The Selection, based on the book by Keira Cass; Fox comedy To My Future Assistant, based on the blog and upcoming book by Lydia Whitlock; ABC drama The Returned, based on an upcoming novel by Jason Mott; and CBS drama Intelligence, based on on an unpublished book by John Dixon, joined by CBS’ summer series Under The Dome, based on Stephen King’s book.
Related: PILOT SEASON 2013: The Overachievers
After the current broadcast season has failed to produce runaway hits, the networks are going back to the drawing board, with several increasing the number of pilots for next season. The five broadcast networks have ordered a total of 98 pilots (including straight-to-series orders in lieu of pilots) this season, up 14% from last year and close to the highs of just more than 100 pilots in the early 2000s, when we had six broadcast networks. This year’s tally extends an upward trend — 79 pilots in 2011, 86 in 2012 and 98 now. The volume increase this year is driven primarily by NBC and CBS, whose orders went up by double digits vs. last year, while ABC and the CW kept the overall number of pilots the same and Fox picked up only one more. Here is a rundown on the networks needs and picks for next season.
Related: Full Primetime Pilot Panic Listings
CBS is sending confusing signals this pilot season. The company has ordered 23 pilots (12 comedies and 11 dramas) vs. 15 (8 comedies and 7 dramas) last season, a whopping 53% increase. But then CBS Corp chief Les Moonves last week, while noting that the network “ordered a couple of more pilots than in previous years,” suggested that “there aren’t going to be a lot of new shows” on CBS’ schedule for next season. His remarks sent chills up the spines of producers who have pilots at the network. As the most stable broadcast network, CBS is traditionally among the hardest to land a new series on. But this year, with so many pilots for what appear to be very few slots, the odds are even slimmer. Competition is especially fierce on the comedy side, where two spots are likely already penciled in for Chuck Lorre’s Mom and one of Greg Garcia’s two pilots. After flirting with the idea of expanding the Thursday comedy block to two hours last season, CBS ultimately stuck to its current configuration of four comedies on Monday and two on Thursday. But with 12 comedy pilots, the network may add more half-hours to the schedule, on Thursday or another night as four of its existing series — The Big Bang Theory, 2 Broke Girls, How I Met Your Mother and Mike & Molly — are assured to return and CBS also is working on a Two And A Half Men renewal. With so many single-camera comedy pilots, CBS is certain to pick up at least one single-camera comedy series. The question is whether the network will go for a single-camera block or mix a single-camera show with its lineup of multi-camera sitcoms. CBS’ drama needs are limited too. With only a couple of shows facing possible cancellation — CSI: NY, whose end appears very likely, freshman Vegas and maybe The Mentalist — there won’t be many hour holes on CBS’ schedule next fall. Its drama choices are a mix of legal (The Advocates), cop (Beverly Hills Cop, Backstrom) and medical (The Surgeon General) procedurals and a couple of serialized thrillers (Hostages, The Ordained).
Shares are down slightly in initial after-market trading following a report that seems to present more questions than answers. CBS increased its share repurchases and reported net earnings of $393M, +6.2% vs the end of 2011, on revenues of $3.7B, +2.4%. But analysts expected the top line to be higher, at $3.79B. And adjusted earnings from continuing operations came in at 64 cents a share, short of forecasts for 69 cents. At the Entertainment unit — which includes the broadcast network and studios — revenues fell 3% to $1.99B with operating income +19.1% to $280M. The company says that ad revenues and retransmission consent fees were up, but the unit didn’t have the same bump it had last year from the deal to sell streaming rights to shows from The CW network. At the Cable Networks, which include Showtime, revenues were up 10.9% to $438M with operating income +4.1% to $176M. The improvement was partly due to higher rates and subscriptions for Showtime. In Local Broadcasting, the influx of political ads contributed to a 9.2% increase in revenues to $787M with operating income +21.9% to $295M. That income figure would have been higher had it not been for an $8M restructuring charge.
The Original family of vampires will remain intact in their leap from The Vampire Diaries to their own series, planted spinoff The Originals. Claire Holt has been cast as a lead in Originals, which will be introduced in the April 25 episode of the CW drama. She will reprise her recurring TVD role as Rebekah, the vampire sister of Klaus (Joseph Morgan) and Elijah (Daniel Gillies). The trio represents all surviving Original siblings as their two other brothers recently faced their demise on TVD. Holt had been rumored to join The Originals from the get-go, but I’d heard talks hit a snag and TVD‘s Phoebe Tonkin was signed for the potential spinoff instead. Now Holt, who just signed with CAA, becomes the fourth cast member of the original series to transition to the spinoff.
The CW has given early pickups to its three strongest series — breakout freshman Arrow, flagship The Vampire Diaries and veteran Supernatural, which has had a resurgence paired with Arrow this season. All three shows hail from Warner Bros TV and will return in fall 2013. It will be a fifth season for Vampire Diaries and ninth for Supernatural. The renewal for Supernatural became possible after stars Jared Padalecki and Jensen Ackles inked rich new multi-season deals last year. “We said last year that one of our goals was to establish building blocks to grow on, and now with our new hit Arrow and fan favorite Supernatural on Wednesday night, and the continued success of The Vampire Diaries on Thursday, we’ve been able to do that,” said CW president Mark Pedowitz. “Not only do Arrow, Supernatural and The Vampire Diaries perform well on-air, they’re also extremely successful for us both digitally and socially.”
EXCLUSIVE: The CW has set directors for three of its drama pilots. Alex Graves will direct and executive produce The Selection. Written by Elizabeth Craft and Sarah Fain, Selection is based on the book by Kiera Cass. Set 300 years in the future, the epic romance centers on a working-class young woman chosen by lottery to participate in a competition with 25 other women for the Royal Prince’s hand to become the nation’s next queen. This marks the second Selection pilot ordered by the CW; the first one last season was directed by Mark Piznarski. Last year, Graves directed the pilot for ABC’s horror/mystery drama 666 Park Ave. He also helmed the pilot for Fox’s Fringe as virtually all of his pilots have gone to series. Additionally, Graves directed the two-hour opener of Fox’s Terra Nova.
Another director whose pilot last season went to series, Bharat Nalluri, is back on pilot-directing duty. He will direct and executive produce The Hundred. Written/executive produced by Jason Rothenberg, the pilot is based on the books by Kass Morgan. Set 97 years after a nuclear war has destroyed civilization, it revolves around 100 juvenile delinquents sent back to Earth to investigate the possibility of re-colonizing the planet. Warner Bros TV and Alloy are producing. Last season, WME-repped Nalluri directed the pilot for the CW’s Emily Owens MD.
EXCLUSIVE: The CW just wrapped its pilot orders for this season with eight pickups, including planted The Vampire Diaries spinoff The Originals. Amazon was not among them, and I have learned that the network has decided to roll the Wonder Woman origin project to next season. Additionally, I hear the CW may order an off-cycle pilot, so Amazon may go into production sooner if the network is happy with the final script.
Amazon was the first project this development cycle to begin preliminary casting back in November when Warner Bros TV started exploring choices for the lead, Diana, while the script by Allan Heinberg was still being written. “We’re waiting to see the script and are busy casting Diana,” the CW president Mark Pedowitz said at TCA earlier this month. In the end, I hear the CW brass felt the project needed more time.
It is an unwritten rule of network development — if a new show from a genre not currently on TV becomes a hit in the fall, a lot of pilots in that milieu get ordered the following season as networks try to replicate the success.
Case in point this year — NBC‘s Revolution. J.J. Abrams/Eric Kripke’s post-apocalyptic series emerged as the biggest hit of the fall, and now the networks are betting heavily on other dramas set in the future. Today alone, three futuristic hourlong pilots received a green light, including one from Abrams, an untitled project at Fox with Fringe showrunner J.H. Wyman set in the near future when all LAPD officers are partnered with highly evolved human-like androids. The other two were at the CW — The Hundred, which has a post-apocalyptic setting similar to Revolution, and Oxygen. The Hundred takes place 97 years after a nuclear war has destroyed civilization when a spaceship with the human survivors sends 100 juvenile delinquents back to Earth to investigate the possibility of re-colonizing the planet. Oxygen is in the vein of District 9 ans is about a human society where a group of alien visitors are kept in prison. The CW has been the most aggressive in pursuing futuristic dramas. In addition to The Hundred and Oxygen, the network has ordered a second pilot for the Hunger Games-esque The Selection, which is set 300 years into the future. After building its brand mainly on contemporary teen soaps, the CW has fully embraced genre and high-concept dramas this season. Out of its six pilots only one, Taylor Hackford’s naval base-set Company Town, reflects present America. In addition to the three futuristic dramas, the network also has backdoor pilot The Originals, a spinoff from hit vampire drama The Vampire Diaries, and Reign, about 16th century Mary Queen of Scots.
UPDATE, 3:40 PM: As expected, The CW picked up two more drama pilots: Reign, the untold story of Mary Queen of Scots’ rise to power, from writers/exec producers Stephanie Sengupta (Outlaw) and Laurie McCarthy (CSI: Miami); and Oxygen, written/exec produced by Meredith Averill, about an epic romance between a human girl and an alien boy when he and eight others of his kind are integrated into a suburban high school 10 years after they landed on Earth and were consigned to an internment camp.