By James Hibberd
February 08, 2012 at 12:00 PM EST
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The CW’s dry spell might be over. Lacking a big breakout hit since 2009’s Vampire Diaries, the network boasts a pilot roster this season filled with head-turning ideas from top producers like J.J. Abrams and Greg Berlanti. “The overall quality is as high or higher than we ever had,” said CW’s development head Thom Sherman. “Everybody is really jazzed.”

The first full CW slate developed under the network’s new entertainment chief Mark Pedowitz, the lineup aimed for broad-appeal, promotion-friendly concepts while still sticking within the network’s adults 18-34 demographic. Noted Sherman: “When people came in to pitch ideas we asked them, ‘What’s the billboard?'”

Below, Sherman offers some tantalizing new details about each of the projects. There’s a Sex and the City prequel on Carrie Bradshaw’s high school years, a grounded adaptation of the DC Comics hero Green Arrow, a future-set fantasy that’s “The Hunger Games meets The Bachelor,” and even a time-traveling musical.

Keep in mind all these projects are still in the pilot stage and haven’t been greenlit to series. Concept and story details can (and often do) change:

Beauty and the Beast
: One of two BATB projects, the other is at ABC. The CW version is based on CBS’ Beauty and the Beast series from the 1980s, a romantic love story with a procedural twist. “ABC’s is definitely more in the fantasy fairy tale space. Ours is a more a contemporary grounded version. The beast in this case, he does have some beast-like qualities, but he doesn’t look like a beast 24/7. He ‘beasts out,’ as we say. It’s more about a young woman’s search for love in today’s society. Here’s a manly man who can quote poetry and kick ass at the same time, but he’s got this one little problem. She’s a cop, he’ll be helping from the shadows.” If ABC greenlights their version first, will The CW still go forward? “Maybe there will be a high-stakes game of chicken.”

The Selection
: Based on the forthcoming series of books by Kiera Cass, The Selection is a romance set 300 years in the future which centers on a poor young woman who is chosen by lottery to participate in a competition to become the next queen of a war-torn nation.

Blogs have compared the story to The Hunger Games. Sherman said “the echos are somewhat apt but it’s a different tone.” He explains: “It’s a dystopian North American society that’s one vast kingdom after a world war has changed everything. But it also has palace intrigue and a prince looking for his princess among the various territories he overseas. Our goal is for the quality to be like a show you’d see on a premium cable network.” The women are chosen by a lottery and 35 of them go to the palace. The prince dates them and decides one by one to send them back to their provinces. The longer a candidate lasts, the more it helps their family back home.

Joey Dakota
: Probably The CW’s toughest concept to pull off, the story follows a modern-day filmmaker who travels back in time to the 1990s where she meets and falls in love with the rock-star who’s the subject of her film. When she unexpectedly returns to the present day, she must find a way back to the past to reunite with her love and prevent his untimely death.
 “It’s a big swing for the fence,” Sherman said. “It’s a wonderful script by Bert Royal, the writer of Easy A. It’s a lot of fun with musical elements to it. It reminds me a little of Across the Universe. It’s romantic, sexy and funny and there’s also a murder mystery — and there’s time travel.” Which naturally sounds like a lot of concepts for one show. “We don’t have a polar bear yet, but we might,” Sherman joked, then added: “It sounds sprawling, yet when you read the script it all kind of makes sense. It’s a romance across the ages.”

NEXT: ‘The Carrie Diaries,’ ‘Arrow,’ ‘Shelter,’ more

Shelter: One Tree Hill co-creator Mark Schwahn’s relationship drama produced by J.J. Abrams and Bryan Burk is set at an historic New England summer resort. Sherman praised Schwahn and Abrams’ experience with character-based shows and noted that, “it’s emotional and character driven with a small weekly franchise element since it’s set at an inn, so you have weekly guest characters coming in.”

The Carrie Diaries: The Sex and the City prequel stars a young Carrie Bradshaw coming of age in the 1980s. Though some readers wondered how it would differ from executive producers Josh Schwartz and Stephanie Savage’s Gossip Girl, Sherman said the show will feel unique for several reasons, “The focus is so much on the Carrie Bradshaw’s character and who she was at 16, 17 years old,” he said. “We weirdly compare it to Smallville because it’s an origin story — how she started writing, how she came to love Manhattan. Basically how we frame the show is, ‘Carrie at 16 found her first love and it’s not a boy — it’s Man-hattan.’ The other unique aspect is obviously the time period.”

Asked if the show will be stocked with familiar 1980s music, Sherman noted Carrie Diaries might have current artists doing takes on ’80s hits, though that’s still being discussed. The sexuality in the show will also be different than Gossip: “It’s more of an exploration of teen sexuality in a real way. Gossip Girl was young people in an adult world; this young people living in a young world.”

Arrow
: The DC Comics adaptation starring Stephen Amell will be more “grounded” than the Smallville version. “He doesn’t have any superpowers, he’s a very grounded character like a Jason Bourne — we use the term ‘Rambo,'” Sherman said. “His skill set is that he’s an archer, but he also have physical strength and prowess. He’s clever and able to devise ways of taking down a bad guy that are unique and fun to watch. He has a very interesting backstory that will be slowly revealed in the pilot. It’s a very provocative and sophisticated edgy look. It’s not as comic book-y as Smallville or other [superhero projects] from other networks.

Cult: Sherman calls the long-gestating project “a twisted and sophisticated story” from the writer of Farscape (Rockne O’Bannon). After a rash of disappearances and a likely murder, an inquisitive, young female production assistant on a wildly popular television show called Cult joins a journalist-blogger in investigating the rabid fans of the series who might be re-creating crimes seen on the program, in real life.


First Cut: The medical drama has a shot at bringing a hospital drama to the network. It’s about a new doctor looking to leave her nerdy past behind for a fresh start in the adult professional world. “It’s got a very specific and fun point of view,” Sherman said. “You leave school and think you’re in the adult world, but you still feel like a kid walking into the school cafeteria for the first time.”

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