10 pilot season trends for fall
Zombies (not vampires), cops (not lawyers) and spin-offs (not remakes) are hot this year. With broadcast’s annual pilot season in full force and some early direct-to-series orders already revealed, intriguing development trends have emerged. Here’s our pre-preview of what’s IN and OUT for fall:
IN: Spin-Offs: SO many this year, plus a copycat bonus: Two are set in New Orleans. CBS is yet again expanding its acronym-based cop-show empire with a Big Easy edition of NCIS starring Quantum Leap‘s Scott Bakula, plus a Virgina-based CSI set in the FBI Cyber Crimes Division starring ex-Medium Patricia Arquette. Also: The CW’s Supernatural has its spin-off Tribes starring Lucien Laviscount and Nathaniel Buzolic, while Arrow has The Flash, starring Grant Gustin. CBS’s How I Met Your Mother spin-off pilot How I Met Your Dad, a female-view twist on the departing hit sitcom starring Greta Gerwig, is considered a lock for a fall series. But what’s out are….
OUT: Fairy Tales: The spell that enchanted TV execs once upon a time has faded, with the canon so heavily plowed the past few years. Arguably taking their place: Comic book adaptations, with Fox’s Batman prequel Gotham starring Ben McKenzie and NBC’s Constantine among others in the works. And if you count the Land of Oz as a fairy tale, NBC did greenlight Emerald City, billed as a “dark re-imagining of the classic tale.”
IN: Movie remakes: Too many to list, with most already at the series-order level — El Rey has a series version of From Dusk Till Dawn, NBC just launched its About a Boy sitcom and has greenlit a pilot version of The Money Pit, TNT is importing a series based on The Transporter films starring Chris Vance, FX has a series version of Fargo with Martin Freeman (which has great pilot), and NBC has a Rosemary’s Baby mini starring Star Trek actress Zoe Saldana.
OUT: U.S. TV Remakes: When NBC’s Murder She Wrote remake project imploded, fans of the classic show (and original series star Angela Lansbury, and anybody who watched NBC’s Ironside or Bionic Woman reboots) heaved a big sigh of relief. Amazingly, broadcasters only have one pilot right now based on a former U.S. TV series — CBS’s Odd Couple, starring Matthew Perry. But there are still plenty of others lurking in primordial stages of development and revamps of foreign TV formats remain hugely popular. So this recycling reprieve is likely only temporary.
IN: New zombies. Networks believe zombies might be a thing. (Why, it’s almost as if the top-rated drama on TV was a zombie show or something.) Except these next-gen walkers are friendly chatterboxes instead of moaning killers. NBC has brought back from the dead a 2007 pilot called Babylon Fields about the recently deceased trying to return to their former lives, which is somewhat similar to ABC’s March series The Resurrection. Meanwhile, The CW has its iZombie pilot, based on a comic series (image above) about a coroner who eats brains to stay alive while solving crimes (no joke).
OUT: Traditional vampires. Could the post-Twilight trend finally be over? There’s been a drop in bloodsucker dramas in the broadcast pipeline — not one current pilot has neck biters. But on the cable side, FX has director Guillermo del Toro’s The Strain in July, and there’s the aforementioned From Dusk Till Dawn reboot. Both shows notably promise a new breed of sparkle-free unromantic vampire-esque creatures unlike any we’ve seen before, such as The Strain‘s proboscis-equipped bad guys in the comic image above — you don’t want to kiss that guy, do you?
IN: Returning stars: Speaking of zombies! Hit TV veterans who have been off the air for awhile are once again circling back: David Schwimmer has ABC’s couple-comedy Irreversible, his first sitcom pilot since Friends. Happy Days’ Henry Winkler has a semi-autobiographical comedy at ABC. Will & Grace‘s Debra Messing plays a detective with devilish kids on NBC’s Mysteries of Laura. And ex-Grey’s Anatomy star Katherine Heigl plays a maverick CIA officer NBC’s pilot State of Affairs.
OUT: Tokenism: There are seemingly more characters of color in lead roles this pilot season in which race is actually part of the storyline, particularly at ABC, which has a trio of three semi-autobiographical comedy pilots in the works: ABC’s cultural identity comedy Black-ish, starring Anthony Anderson; a Taiwanese-American family comedy Fresh off the Boat; and a comedy based on the life of comic Kevin Hart. Plus, NBC has Craig Robinson’s (pic above) series Mr. Robinson, about a middle school music teacher. On the drama side, Fox’s Empire stars Terrence Howard, comes from Butler director Lee Daniels, and is set in the hip-hop world, while 12 Years a Slave writer John Ridley has ABC’s American Crime about a racially charged trial.
IN: Small-town cop shows: Even before HBO’s True Detective turned heads, this trend was in the works: More intimate small-town portraits, less flashy urban chaos. Aside from Fox’s series-ordered Broadchurch remake Gracepoint (pic above), ABC has the Sea of Fire pilot, starring Jennifer Carpenter as an FBI agent investigating a murder surrounding a teen porn video, while CBS’s mismatched rural Michigan cops drama Battle Creek starring Janet McTeer and Kal Penn is one of the season’s buzziest projects, thanks to creator Vince Gilligan (who’s just coming off of Breaking Bad.)
OUT: Big-city law shows: Oh, there are still a couple of gavel-and-docket dramas in the works, such as Shonda Rhimes’ law school pilot starring Matt McGorry. But the verdict on legal dramas mostly seems to be “not happening by reason of done-to-death.” (And Rake, pic above, pulling such low ratings that it’s already being put onto Fox’s Green Mile on Friday nights isn’t really helping matters). That said, if you really want to reinvent the lawyer TV genre, you better to look to cable — and Better Call Saul!