Pilot season trends: How networks plan to make TV great again
So you didn’t love some of the … okay most of the … okay nearly all of this season’s new broadcast shows. Aside from NBC’s Blindspot and, uh, NBC’s Blindspot, ratings for freshman titles have ranged from “Pretty Acceptable” to “Rhinehart Tire Fire” (what, no love for CSI: Cyber? We are shocked, America!). But now a new wave of projects are in the running for next fall with dozens of pilots in contention and several series already greenlit. It’s like Hollywood’s version of presidential primaries. And just like with the election, several primary themes have emerged. Here’s how the Big 5 broadcast networks plan to Make TV Great Again.
Several projects pledge to keep America safe: Fox’s pilot Recon follows a rookie FBI agent (Tracy Spiridakos) living with a suspected terrorist family, 24: Legacy revives the Counter Terrorist Unit with a new cast led by Corey Hawkins and Miranda Otto, while Jack Bauer himself, Kiefer Sutherland, is returning to TV in ABC’s Designated Survivor as a low-level cabinet member elevated to U.S. president after an attack wipes out the entire line of succession.
There are a dozen or so spin-offs and reboots in the running and they’ll probably have automatic frontrunner status for series orders. Why? Because Fox’s poll numbers got a huge boost with its wildly uneven X-Files revival — that the top-rated “new” show this season is actually a revival has escaped nobody’s attention. That one hit means a lot more than all the times such a programming tactic doesn’t work (Minority Report? What was that?).
There’s NBC’s Taken starring Vikings menace Clive Stanton and CBS’ Cruel Intentions revival with Sarah Michelle Gellar reprising her role from the 1999 film to name just a couple (and Fox’s Lethal Weapon, CBS’ MacGyver, The CW’s Frequency and Fox’s Prison Break to name a few more).
Some, however, just use a brand for recognition. CBS’ Drew has Sarah Shahi as small-town teen amateur sleuth Nancy Drew — except now she’s a New York homicide detective in her ’30s (otherwise it’s exactly the same!).
It’s the mega-rich to the rescue, but they’re not building walls on the border: NBC’s Bunker Hill stars Dermot Mulroney and follows a tech titan who launches an innovative new hospital; Fox’s comedy Charity Case has Courteney Cox inheriting her billionaire husband’s charity; and Fox’s A.P.D. stars Natalie Martinez as an eccentric billionaire who purchases a troubled police precinct (uh, you can do that?).
There are nearly two dozen projects in the works about families or couples, including a series order for a Kevin James sitcom about a retired cop raising his family. Plus, there’s Shonda Rhimes’ first-ever comedy — ABC’s wedding-themed Toast — along with ABC’s small-town comedy Hail Mary, about a mayor played by Casey Wilson who fakes a miracle. (Fun fact: Wilson and almost the entire cast of ABC’s canceled Happy Endings have landed in new shows, so it was a happy ending indeed.)
The Big 4 have spent decades grinding out formulaic police dramas only to watch the Serial podcast and Netflix’s Making a Murderer get all the crime story buzz this last year with their “did he or didn’t he?” docu-formats. So now there’s ABC’s Conviction, about the daughter (Hayley Atwell) of a former president who is blackmailed into taking a job as the head of something called the Conviction Integrity Unit where she examines cases where there’s credible suspicion that the wrong person may have been convicted of a crime.
ABC also has a pilot for Archie Panjabi vehicle The Jury, which is described as “12 Angry Men meets Serial” and follows a single murder trial as seen through the eyes of the individual jurors through the course of a season.
Time for Change
Networks must envision a future where every time-travel show is a big hit because there are three titles planning to tinker with the space-time continuum that are canvassing for attention: ABC’s Time After Time has a young H.G. Wells (Freddie Stroma) chasing a fugitive Jack the Ripper (Josh Bowman); NBC’s Time stars Matt Lanter as a time traveler who battles a master criminal; and a Fox comedy Making History has three friends, including Adam Pally, who complicate their personal lives by tinkering with the past. (Or they could just buy next week’s lottery numbers and call it a day?)