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TV's cool and crazy 2012 pilot season

Magic, mayhem, and ”The Munsters.” A look at the most intriguing shows being considered for fall

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Once upon a time, five rival kingdoms scoured the land for the next hit TV show. Their quest? To find a broadcast series with that magical combination of ”familiar yet different” broad-appeal concepts that fall somewhere on the creative spectrum between, say, Mad Men and CSI: Denver.

So what did they find? In addition to the requisite cop dramas and family comedies, the networks snapped up a slew of clever, bold, and downright batty titles. Along with several CW projects and J.J. Abrams‘ latest, one of the most interesting-on-paper ideas is ABC’s Last Resort, a drama from The Shield creator Shawn Ryan about a U.S. submarine crew (including Andre Braugher) that goes rogue and establishes a tiny nuclear-capable country. Also promising is The Vampire Diaries chief Kevin Williamson‘s untitled Fox thriller starring Kevin Bacon as a damaged federal agent pursuing a serial killer. And anybody could deduce that crime-drama-heavy CBS would eventually reinvent Sherlock Holmes, but who isn’t curious to see how the network’s take, the New York-set Elementary, turns out? Some notable trends…

Magic
Of the roughly 80 pilots picked up, about a dozen have fantasy or supernatural elements. (Not surprising, given the success of this season’s top-rated new drama, ABC’s Once Upon a Time, and, to a lesser extent, NBC’s can’t-believe-it-survived-Friday-nights Grimm.) ABC is especially high on supernatural titles. There’s Gotham, about a policewoman who discovers a magical underworld, and 666 Park Avenue, also set in NYC, which follows a young couple living in a haunted building. Plus, there are dueling Beauty and the Beast projects. (ABC’s plays more like a fairy tale; The CW’s is a love story and police procedural akin to the 1987-90 CBS series.)

Remake Fatigue
After Prime Suspect, The Firm, and Charlie’s Angels crashed, fewer household-name reboots are in the pipeline. One buzzworthy exception is NBC’s The Munsters project, whose new title, Mockingbird Lane, reflects a more grown-up, dramatic spin on the gothic suburban family. (Desperate Monsters?)

More New Girls
The highly rated freshman sitcoms New Girl and 2 Broke Girls helped pave the way for more fierce female comedies, including an NBC vehicle for Sarah Silverman (about the comedian looking for love after a breakup) and a Fox one for Mindy Kaling (who’ll play a ”Bridget Jones-type” doctor navigating work and romance). There’s also ABC’s The Smart One, with Portia de Rossi as a brainy woman who goes to work for her ditzy sister; CBS’ Super Fun Night, with Bridesmaids costar Rebel Wilson, about a group of nerdy female friends partying; and NBC’s Downwardly Mobile, with Roseanne Barr as a trailer-park proprietor.

British Invasion
A handful of obscure U.K. imports are in contention, including ABC’s Only Fools & Horses, about the get-rich schemes of two streetwise brothers and their aging grandfather, and NBC’s Friday Night Dinner, about a quirky family’s weekly dinners. The latter is being adapted by Greg Daniels, who brought The Office to the U.S.

Sound Familiar?
Like The Professional? Try the untitled Fox project about a rogue assassin who mentors an orphaned 17-year-old girl. How about Girl With the Dragon Tattoo? CBS’ Quean has a young female hacker teaming with an Oakland police detective to solve crimes.

Overachiever Alert!
Does J.J. Abrams sleep? The man behind Fringe, Alcatraz, and Person of Interest has sold two more pilots. There’s NBC’s Revolution, set in a world where all electrical devices have stopped working, and The CW’s Shelter, a surprisingly gimmick-free drama that takes place in a New England resort.

The CW’s Promising Picks
The network — which hasn’t launched a new hit since The Vampire Diaries premiered in 2009 — boasts an impressive pilot roster. ”The overall quality is as high or higher than we ever had,” says The CW’s development head, Thom Sherman. In addition to Shelter, there’s a Sex and the City prequel exec-produced by Gossip Girl‘s Josh Schwartz and Stephanie Savage, based on Candace Bushnell’s novel The Carrie Diaries; an adaptation of DC Comics’ Green Arrow; a future-set fantasy billed as ”The Hunger Games meets The Bachelor”; and even a time-traveling musical. All filled with the network’s trademark hotties, we hope.