Hollywood producers, studio execs and network suits do a little mating dance every spring where they make writers, directors and actors shoot pilot episodes of potential shows. Based on these one-offs, where the creative types pour everything they’ve got into setting up a premise, it is decided what viewers will be offered on network TV in the fall.
One problem. No one in Hollywood has any clue whether a great pilot will translate into a long-lived and rewarding series. Development season is a bit like Christmas for them, except that they can’t tell if they got a present or a lump of coal in their stocking.
So, normally, I don’t pay a lot of attention to pilots. Why get excited about a premise that may never make it onto the schedule, right? But this year feels a little different. Not because the pilots sound better, but because a number of my favorite shows are ending. 24, Lost and Ugly Betty are all hurtling toward series finales. FlashForward seems to be a dead show walking. Scrubs fizzled out without much fanfare (though I suppose it could be back). So I’m starting to wonder what I’ll be watching in the fall (other than the last few episodes of Mad Men, Weeds and Entourage).
With this in mind, I trolled through the pilots that the networks are considering over the next few weeks. Before I get to the ones that intrigued me, let me say that I don’t watch cop, lawyer or doctor dramas, which immediately took 28 potential shows off the table. Without further ado, here are seven pilots that caught my eye (based on nothing but the breathless PR blurbs put out by the studios):
Cutthroats (ABC) – The daughter of a Mexican drug lord lives in Beverly Hills with her family and runs a crime syndicate. But she finds the good people of Beverly Hills harder to deal with than the criminals. OK, I’m going to put aside the fact that daughters of crime lords are not exactly going to be strangers to the Beverly Hills crowd. Rich is rich, after all. But that’s just quibbling. This series is going to go one of two ways. It is either going to be wickedly funny, like the first season of Weeds. Or it is going to be a terribly offensive train wreck. Either way, I’m assuming it will be fun to watch for at least a couple of weeks.
No Ordinary Family (ABC) – After a plane crash in the Amazon, a typical American family discovers that they have superpowers. Let’s be honest here. This is a mash-up rip-off of Heroes and The Incredibles. The thing is that I’ve been very disappointed in Heroes since the first season. Maybe I’m hoping this will fulfill the promise of that show. And who doesn’t like The Incredibles?
Mr. Sunshine (ABC) – Matthew Perry manages a mid-size sports arena and Allison Janney is his boss. That’s two points for this pilot right there. The show itself sounds like a potential dramedy disaster. Lots of mid-life crisis angst. Hopefully, it’ll rise above that malaise that is built into the premise. I’m still stinging from the disappointing Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip. So maybe Perry will get back into form here. Having Janney around can only help.
Quinn-tuplets (CBS) – The Quinn quintuplets have had their entire lives documented on TV. Now they deal with being grown-ups. I know – does not sound promising. The too-cute title might be enough to toss this one. But bear with me. I used to love the show, Party of Five. This one has that feel for me (and not just because it revolves around the number 5). Maybe I’m wrong, but it sounds like an intriguing set-up for that family drama I’ve been missing.
The Event (NBC) – I’ll quote directly from the NBC press release: “The Event is a thriller with a unique storytelling device that features multiple points of view concerning a decent, regular fellow who battles against mysterious circumstances that envelope a larger conspiracy. ” I have no idea what this series is about. But I’m so desperate to replace Lost that I’d probably watch it anyway. Nothing else out there sounds like it’ll fill the giant gaping hole left behind when that island really does disappear.
The Damn Thorpes (CW) – A horse trainer has to take care of his three younger sisters after their parents die. OK, forget about Quinn-tuplets. This is Party of Five. And by the creator of Gillmore Girls to boot. Interesting. Though somehow I think that the word damn won’t be in the title if this makes it on the air.
The Station (Fox) – And last but not least, my nominee for the are-you-kidding-me award this pilot season. It’s a workplace show set in a covert CIA station in Latin America. It’s a sitcom. Because not much is funnier than CIA activity in South America, right? Yikes. Between this and Cutthroats, the potential for offensive Hispanic stereotypes on TV is mind-boggling. On the other hand, when you’ve got John Goodman in the cast and Ben Stiller as a producer, it could just be the next Arrested Development.
There you have it. Seven shows I may never get to watch. See you (or not) in the fall.
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