TV's Pilot Season Goes (Very) High-Concept
Be prepared for some detailed, bizarre, and period TV pilots this fall
Simple is out. This pilot season, the series being considered for the fall are built on big ideas and complicated characters. Cops can’t simply catch bad guys anymore: Now they need a computer chip in their brains or a robot partner. (Both of those? Real shows!) ”Networks think generic little concepts are never going to work,” sighs one top talent agent. ”They want these crazy high concepts.” Here are four early trends.
CBS’ Intelligence stars Lost’s Josh Holloway as a cybercrime agent who can ”access the entire electromagnetic spectrum” with his mind, while J.J. Abrams’ still-untitled latest envisions an LAPD where cops are paired with androids. And if those aren’t super enough for you, ABC’s S.H.I.E.L.D. has writer-director Joss Whedon bringing the Avengers universe to TV along with a resurrected Agent Coulson (Clark Gregg).
Several top writers have pilots starring brilliant malcontents — and not just because they want the next House. ”It’s actor bait,” a net exec says. ”A strong, highly promotable lead character helps draw talent.” House writer David Shore has a ”charming low-rent” lawyer battling his demons on ABC’s Doubt, Bones writer Hart Hanson has an ”overweight, offensive cop” on CBS’ Backstrom, and Rescue Me‘s Peter Tolan landed Greg Kinnear to play a defense lawyer with ”zero filter” on Fox’s Rake.
Forget high school. The CW wants soaps set 300 years in the future (The Selection, often described as ”The Bachelor meets The Hunger Games”) or 400 years in the past (Reign, about Mary, Queen of Scots). ABC is developing the horror ensemble Gothica, which has characters like Dracula, Frankenstein, and Dorian Gray. And Fox has signed Emma Roberts for the postapocalyptic romance Delirium. Explains one network exec, ”It’s hard to launch a contemporary soap when somebody else has a contemporary soap set on Mars.”
Or what the biz calls ”pre-awareness titles.” There’s CBS’ Beverly Hills Cop, with Eddie Murphy occasionally reprising his role as Axel Foley and Brandon T. Jackson starring as his detective son; a comedy based on About a Boy at NBC; another based on Bad Teacher at CBS; and NBC’s reboots of Ironside and the Hatfields and McCoys feud. Plus, The CW will run its Vampire Diaries spin-off pilot The Originals on April 25, while CBS will air an NCIS: Los Angeles spin-off, which just cast John Corbett to lead a mobile ”Red Team” that solves crimes around the country. Note this one’s a spin-off of a spin-off of a spin-off. We’re worried the new show will someday launch its own spin-off called JAG, and we’ll all be trapped in a perpetual CBS time loop.