What’s more addictive than Netflix’s Stranger Things and HBO’s Game of Thrones? Not a whole lot, which is why the Big 5 broadcast networks are working harder than ever to lure you away from everything that’s a rival for your attention — such as Netflix, cable channels, and the president’s latest tweets. This year’s crop of 80-ish pilots in contention for next fall is stuffed full of high-concept ideas and major star names. Below are some of the titles (but not necessarily the most promising ones) in a ridiculously early fall TV trends preview:
Trump-inspired? Or just a total coincidence TV networks are focusing on themes that are being hotly debated post-election? Either way, a few titles seem pretty topical: ABC’s The Crossing is a wartime refugee crisis with a sci-fi twist — the refugees are Americans. The return of Desperate Housewives showrunner Marc Cherry goes from Wysteria Lane to rural Kentucky where a small town sheriff “finds her red state outlook challenged” after getting partnered with an FBI agent of Middle Eastern descent. And ABC has an untitled comedy starring Brandon Michael Hall (Search Party), about a rapper who runs for mayor as a publicity stunt, then is shocked when he’s elected (this premise was probably considered far-fetched when it was pitched, but now…).
Salutes & Snoops
Networks are stockpiling an arsenal of dramas with military and spy agency themes, such as Fox’s Behind Enemy Lines, starring Marg Helgenberger, which follows group of soldiers trapped in enemy territory and is loosely based on the 2001 movie. Another is ABC’s Unit Zero, an action-dramedy starring Toni Collette as a CIA engineer who leads a team of inexperienced newbie field agents. CBS’ Killer Instinct follows a former CIA operative (Alan Cummings) who’s pulled back into the game to stop a serial killer. There’s also dramas about helicopter pilots (The CW’s Valor), special forces operators (NBC’s For God and Country starring Anne Heche) and an Edward Snowden-like NSA leaker (CBS’ Perfect Citizen).
The This Is Us Effect
None of these are cast yet, but at least five pilots chronicle adult siblings. Their descriptions usually go like this: “Dramatic unexpected circumstances cause Sibling 1 and Sibling 2 (and possibly a Sibling 3) to reunite and perhaps even move in together forming an unconventional family.” No mention of dead dads. Yet.
Some favorite comedy names looking to return to prime-time: The legendary Carol Burnett stars in ABC’s appropriately titled Household Name, playing an eccentric actress. There’s also the ABC’s comedy Start Up, with Scrubs star Zach Braff about an ambitious entrepreneur. And The Office alum Craig Robinson is teaming with Parks and Recreation alum Adam Scott for Fox’s Ghosted a comedy that’s decidedly not about Tinder dating (which would have been too scary for TV) but rather paranormal activity.
Capes & cowls
Director Bryan Singer is launching Fox’s “we can’t call it X-Men” series that’s totally X-Men (FX’s Legion is a different one) starring Jaime Chung about parents who discover their children possess special powers and join an underground network of mutants. Fox actually dumped D.C.’s Black Lightning — about a father who has special powers —but The CW heroically rescued the title on its quest to rule the D.C. universe. And ABC has ordered straight to series Marvel’s Inhumans starring failed Game of Thrones dog whisper Iwan Rheon about a race of people with special powers who — oh, you know the drill.
Networks are once again betting on spin-offs and reboots (and you deserve the credit/blame if you watched last year’s surprisingly popular The X-Files return). NBC is bringing back Will and Grace with a full cast, ABC is spinning off The Goldbergs (this time set in the 1990s and following two high school teachers), The CW is resuscitating ‘80s mega-soap Dynasty with Nathalie Kelley (The Vampire Diaries) as a Hispanic woman marrying into ultra-WASPy Carrington family. There’s also a female twist on the 1991 Bill Murray movie What About Bob? titled What About Barb?, plus a reboot of the cop drama S.W.A.T. (ask your dad).
A trio of projects hoping to get launched. There’s NBC’s Spaced Out — which is like NASA-based Big Bang Theory workplace comedy; Fox’s Orville, which is a Star Trek parody that’s written and starring Seth MacFarlane. Also there’s CBS’ Mission Control from The Martin writer Andy Weir, about young NASA astronauts and scientists “juggling the personal and professional during a critical mission” (prediction: lots of zero gravity sex).
Also, This Sounds Cool
Not part of any trend: Fox’s The Passage, which adapts Justin Cronin’s post-apocalyptic decades-spanning vampire trilogy to TV … What? We wanted to fit it in somewhere.