Fall 2011-12: It’s Pilot Season, People

Ah, pilot season: that happy time of year when we get the possibility of being relinquished from the horrors of the television shows we’re slogging through right now (such as Rules of Engagement; one can only hope that show will be booted off the roster one of these thousands of years). This year is no exception, but there might be even more to look forward to; there’s a particular good crop of actors circling the pilots in talks right now. Additionally, a great number of them are being led by impressive women, thus further proving the argument that television is the place for the ladies who want the ripest of parts. Let’s take a look at the potential pilots and the women who may head them.

ABC’s Pan Am has been described as a drama about flight attendants when they were still called stewardesses “in the jet-set age”, which seems to be the ’60s. Christina Ricci is in talks to star, but Pan Am isn’t not the only pilot trying to capitalize in this post-Mad Men world; NBC is working on Playboy, also a drama set in the ’60s. Playboy, however, is about a profession that appeared equally glamorous, but was most definitely not – the lives of Playboy bunnies. Amber Heard, the newly announced lesbian fantasy of all men, is set to star. Maybe they should think about merging these pilots and put it all on Hugh Hefner’s jet.

As per the usual, there will be a lot of twenty-somethings running around on television, unable to keep their hands off each other, which is a welcome relief to those of us who feel totally underrepresented in the media. Despite the weak nature of this batch of plotlines, they do feature some awesome ladies who have been underutilized in the past. Kat Dennings is attached to CBS’ Two Broke Girls, which sounds basically like my life right now; she’ll play a sort-of poor 20-something living in New York City. Along a similar vein with potentially more strife is Krysten Ritter, everyone’s favorite perky, sarcastic sidekick, in ABC’s Don’t Trust the Bitch in Apt. 23. Ritter will also move to New York City, playing a particularly difficult roommate who parties too much. Bonus to Don’t Trust the Bitch: James Van Der Beeke, playing a version of himself as a friend of Ritter’s character.

Some more from slightly different, but mostly the same category: Zooey Deschanel on Fox’s Chicks, which is a comedy “about the sexual politics of young men and women”, and will probably feature three boys and three girls, some of whom live together, as these things go. Sexual politics are so hot these days — Chelsea Handler’s best-selling novel is being adapted in that direction as well — with Laura Prepon starring in NBC’s Are You There, Vodka? It’s Me Chelsea, about a crazy girl and the friends that have to deal with her.

Don’t worry, older ladies get their shot too! Everyone’s favorite British sweetheart, Minnie Driver will be in CBS’ Hail Mary as a suburban single mom with a twist; she solves crimes! Hopefully this will catch on with a larger audience than the two seasons of the underwatched The Riches. For more babes busting criminals, the British show Prime Suspect, known for its role in making Helen Mirren a household name, is being adapted to an American audience. Maria Bello will play a female detective in New York City just trying to make it in a boys club. And Ashley Judd is signed on for ABC’s Missing, about a mother with a CIA background who gets deeply involved in tracking down her son’s kidnapper after he goes, well, missing.

Smash, which is being branded by everyone as a NBC’s version of Glee reboot will feature both Debra Messing and Angelica Huston, about a group of people trying to put on a Broadway musical. It’s unclear if it’s going to be a lot of karaoke like Glee, or something even better for musical geeks. NBC has also snagged Amanda Peet to star in Bent, a comedy about a divorced, OCD mom who tries to not fall over with lust every time her surfer contractor comes into her kitchen.

And then there are the few that seem like blatant ripoffs. Everwood for women stars Rachel Bilson on the CW’s Hart of Dixie. She’s a New York City doctor who moves to a small Southern town to take over a family medical practice. And apparently, everyone forgot about the Shonda Rimes’ backed Grey’s Anatomy for cops, Rookie Blue (it did air over the summer), because Leelee Sobieski is in CBS’ Rookies, about six NYPD rookies trying to “balance their personal lives with learning the beat on the streets of Manhattan.” Of course, we have a few blatant reboots, such as Charlie’s Angels on ABC, with Minka Kelly, Rachael Taylor, Annie Ilonzeh, and Wonder Woman on NBC with Adrianne Palicki.

Buffy fans wil be happy, because Sarah Michelle Gellar is back (sans Joss Whedon) for CBS’ Ringer. It’s a drama about a woman who pretends to be her twin sister, but of course, that turns out to be just as dangerous as the life she was trying to escape.

It’s an exhausting line-up, but odds are that only a few of these will make it to the finish line. It’s also pretty difficult to say what the finished projects will be from the brief descriptions we have here, though there is of course speculation as to the quality of most of these programs, especially the ones that are particularly high profile (Wonder Woman, for instance). Nonetheless, it’s particularly exciting to have such a talented group of women, young and old, featured so prominently in so many potential shows. Of course, there are few women of color in the line-up, and very few “new” ideas, but you don’t really need a new idea to make a good show. Just good writers and smart people.

The seeds are cast about, hoping to take root; now we just need network television to avoid messing it all up and take some risks.

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