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Tuesday, February 26, 2013
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The Best Broadcast Pilot Orders of the 2013-2014 Season: ABC and Fox

By Rachel Bennett
Television Editor & Columnist

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It’s pilot season, which means your favorite out-of-work TV actors, actresses, creators and writers are getting a chance to return to the small screen once more.

Although we have yet to know what new series we’ll see next year, the networks have been busy selecting projects to consider for their schedules. So far, almost 100 scripts have been chosen, and audiences will only get to see a handful actually come to fruition.

Several are duds, but there are a few promising prospects that I hope network executives will keep around for the 2013-2014 season — even if it means they have to cancel old favorites to make room (just keep Parks and Recreation, OK, NBC?).

Check out my choices for the best prospective ABC and Fox pilots, and read my selections for NBC and CBS if you missed them yesterday:

ABC

Drama

1. S.H.I.E.L.D.

• Premise: A series revolved around Marvel’s Supreme Headquarters, International Espionage, Law-Enforcement Division (S.H.I.E.L.D.), which was recently featured in the 2012 summer blockbuster The Avengers.

• Who’s involved: The Avengers writer/director and TV mastermind Joss Whedon is spearheading this series along with his brother Jed Whedon and sister-in-law Maurissa Tancharoen. The biggest names in the cast are Ming-Na (NBC’s ER) and Clark Gregg, who plays Agent Phil Coulson in several Marvel films and will reprise his role in the pilot. Relative newcomers Brett Dalton (Lifetime’s Army Wives), Elizabeth Henstridge (Channel 4’s Hollyoaks), Iain De Caestecker (BBC’s The Fades) and Chloe Bennet (ABC’s Nashville) round out the cast.

• Why I’m excited: The Avengers was a huge summer hit, and the other Marvel films (including the Iron Man series, Thor and Captain America: The First Avenger) proved to be fun and entertaining as well. However, it’s the team behind this project that’s most exciting. Joss Whedon is responsible for the beloved Buffy the Vampire Slayer (UPN/The WB) and Firefly (Fox), so he knows how to construct a great series. Likewise, Jed Whedon and Tancharoen co-wrote the hilarious Dr. Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog and worked with Joss on Fox’s Dollhouse, so S.H.I.E.L.D. will be in good hands. This will be a huge draw and moneymaker for ABC, so unless the pilot is a complete disaster (it won’t be), you’ll definitely see this series come fall.

2. Influence

• Premise: Two brothers who share a complicated relationship head an agency that uses the science of human manipulation and motivation to fix clients’ problems.

• Who’s involved: The provocative project is from Kyle Killen, who will executive produce the series with Keith Redmon (NBC’s Awake). Steve Zahn (HBO’s Treme) has been tapped to play one of the brothers, Clark, who’s described as, “an unmedicated bipolar world-renowned expert in the fields of human behavior, psychology and motivation. Clark is a former professor whose academic career imploded when the university became aware he was having an affair with a 22-year-old student.”

• Why I’m excited: Killen created the fantastic but quickly canceled Awake (NBC) and Lone Star (Fox), so it’s only a matter of time before the guy finds success. Could the third time be the charm? Possibly, as Influence sounds smart, bold and all-around intriguing. It may be too daring for ABC, but I hope the network at least gives it a shot. Aside from this, Zahn has proven time and time again that he’s a wonderful character actor, and I’d love to see him get more of the spotlight — this role definitely sounds like the right place to start.

3. Lucky 7

• Premise: Seven NYC service station employees’ lives are changed in surprising ways when they win a lottery jackpot. The series is an adaptation of BBC One’s The Syndicate, which is in its second season.

• Who’s involved: Isiah Whitlock Jr. (HBO’s The Wire) will portray one of the lucky ticket holders, “a gas station attendant who is injured prior to finding out he is one of 6 other lottery winners.” David Zabel and Jason Richman will write the pilot and executive produce alongside Steven Spielberg, Justin Falvey and Darryl Frank.

• Why I’m excited: Sure, Spielberg, Falvey and Frank executive produce the disaster that is NBC’s Smash, but they’ve also executive produced several other decent series, including ABC’s The River, Showtime’s United States of Tara and TNT’s Falling Skies. In short, they’re not bad guys to have on your side. Plus, anything with the name “Spielberg” attached is a must-see. Additionally, writers Zabel and Richman wrote for and executive produced ABC’s decent yet canceled Detroit 1-8-7, so hopefully they can recreate some of that magic this time. I’m also excited for any The Wire actor, and Whitlock Jr. always impressed as State Sen. R. Clayton ‘Clay’ Davis, so I’m anxious to see him in another lead role. This drama sounds subtler than many of the others ABC is considering, and while that may not attract huge ratings, it could make for thoughtful, award-winning TV.

Comedy

1. Super Fun Night

• Premise: Kimmie and her two best friends decide to spice up their Friday nights, which are usually spent staying home in their PJs, when Kimmie receives a promotion at work and is invited to a party by a cute coworker.

• Who’s involved: Rebel Wilson wrote the pilot and will star as Kimmie, while Lauren Ash (Lars and the Real Girl) and Liza Lapira (ABC’s Don’t Trust the B—- in Apartment 23) will portray her BFFs. Wilson will also executive produce and be joined by Conan O’Brien and Jeff Ross (TBS’s Conan). John Riggi will serve as showrunner.

• Why I’m excited: Wilson is currently one of Hollywood’s hottest prospects, having stolen scenes in the films Bridesmaids and Pitch Perfect. She’s hilarious and shameless, which makes for an entertaining star. Apart from Wilson, I’m happy to see the wonderful Lapira continue to get work. Although this project was passed over last season by CBS, ABC’s tweaks to it (i.e. it will be single camera, not multicam) should make it better. O’Brien is also hilarious, and his wacky humor should fit nicely with Wilson’s. As for Riggi, he was an executive producer of NBC’s 30 Rock, so he probably knows a thing or two about awesome female-led comedies. Count me in.

2. Spy

• Premise: A good-intentioned father inadvertently accepts a job at the Secret Service in order to prove himself worthy of his smart son. The comedy is based on Sky1’s British series of the same name.

• Who’s involved: The hilarious Rob Corddry will play Tim, the well-meaning dad, and Mason Cook (NBC’s Mockingbird Lane) will star as his son. Paget Brewster (CBS’s Criminal Minds) has also been cast, and she’ll portray Tim’s neurotic, cold ex-wife. Simeon Goulden, who created the British series, will write and executive produce alongside Spy’s Helen Williams and Jimmy Mullville.

• Why I’m excited: The premise sounds a little too cute to me, but I want so badly for Corddry to succeed. He’s always been a great supporting player, often being the character that’s there to lighten the mood, and it’s about time he receive a high-profile lead role. Adult Swim’s Childrens Hospital has given him a starring role, but this would no doubt bring him more exposure. I’m also intrigued by any British adaptation, since one of my favorites comedies, NBC’s The Office, is one.

3. Trophy Wife

• Premise: Former party girl Kate falls in love with Brad, who’s seemingly perfect. The only problem? He comes with three manipulative kids and two judgmental ex-wives.

• Who’s involved: Malin Akerman will step into the role of Kate, playing opposite Bradley Whitford as Brad. Marcia Gay Harden (Mystic River) and Michaela Watkins (NBC’s Saturday Night Live) will costar as the ex-wives. Gene Stupnitsky and Lee Eisenberg (writers of the 2011 film Bad Teacher) will executive produce with Sarah Haskins (Current TV’s InfoMania) and Emily Halpern (ABC’s Private Practice), who will also write the pilot.

• Why I’m excited: I’m not so much excited for the offscreen talent, even though Stupnitsky and Eisenberg were executive producers of The Office, as I am for the onscreen talent. Akerman’s TV roles include the hysterical Childrens Hospital and HBO’s The Comeback, so anything she chooses to do catches my attention. Add in Whitford, who recently completed a hilarious guest spot on NBC’s Parks and Recreation, to the mix, and this is certainly not a series to miss. And for those of us who are a little sick of the overexposure of ABC’s sweet Modern Family, Trophy Wife could be a nice sour antidote. 

Fox

Drama

1. Wild Blue

• Premise: The series will be an upstairs-downstairs peek at the men and women who work aboard an aircraft carrier with 6,000 lives on board. It’s being described as a “ER-meets-West Wing-meets-Top Gun ensemble.”

• Who’s involved: No announced cast yet, but there are a lot of people involved behind the scenes. Taylor Elmore will write and executive produce with Graham Yost. Melissa Bernstein and Mark Johnson will also executive produce.

• Why I’m excited: Wild Blue’s team is easily one of the most talented of the pilot season, as Yost is is the creator of the critically acclaimed Justified (FX), where Elmore is a writer and producer. Let’s not forget Bernstein and Johnson, who are executive producers of AMC’s Breaking Bad. With them pulling the strings, I don’t see how this pilot could go wrong. As for the plot, it sounds as though it could provide a lot of exhilarating stories to keep the drama chugging along for numerous seasons — and don’t we all miss ER and The West Wing?

2. Untitled J.H. Wyman Project

• Premise: In the future, LAPD officers are paired with highly evolved human-like androids to stop crime.

• Who’s involved: J.H. Wyman will write the pilot, whereas J.J. Abrams and Bryan Burk are set as executive producers. A cast has yet to be announced.

• Why I’m excited: The plot of this drama sounded initially a little ridiculous, but once I heard who was leading the project, my fears were put to rest. Wyman executive produced Fox’s Fringe along with Abrams and Burk, who also worked on ABC’s Lost and are behind one of my favorite prospective NBC pilots. The series could be a new take on the buddy cop drama, and as it’s set in the future, it could easily provide cool twists and set pieces. 

3. Rake

• Premise: A charming, brilliant defense attorney rules the courtroom, but when it comes to his outside life (which includes money owed to a bookie and the IRS, multiple affairs and a difficult kid and ex-wife), he’s a mess.

• Who’s involved: Greg Kinnear will headline the drama, which will be written and executive produced by Peter Duncan and Peter Tolan. Costars include Miranda Otto (USA Network’s The Starter Wife) and John Ortiz (HBO’s Luck).

• Why I’m excited: What’s there not to like about Kinnear? He’s been in the industry for a long time, working his way up to star in several films, and this will be his first regular TV lead role — a long overdue honor. Duncan created the Australian series on which Rake is based, and Tolan co-created FX’s Rescue Me. I hope they can construct Kinnear the meaty role he deserves, but luckily, they have a good track record of writing strong male leads. I just don’t want to see another copy of Dr. Gregory House (Hugh Laurie) from Fox’s House M.D. — we’ve been there and done that many times over.

Comedy

1. Untitled Dan Goor/Mike Schur Project

• Premise: A group of detectives constitute a makeshift family in a police precinct in the outermost neighborhood of New York City.

• Who’s involved: The cast includes Andy SambergAndre BraugherTerry CrewsMelissa Fumero (The CW’s Gossip Girl), Stephanie Beatriz and Chelsea PerettiMike Schur and Dan Goor will write and executive produce the series alongside David Miner.

• Why I’m excited: This pilot sounds almost too good to be true, and I can’t imagine Fox passing up. Samberg’s already proven how hilarious he is on Saturday Night Live, and it will be great to see Terry Crews in another comedy following his stint on UPN/The CW’s Everybody Hates Chris. Braugher, who shined on TNT’s Men of a Certain Age, is also a fantastic addition. As for Peretti, I’m excited to see her in a regular role following her writing gig on Parks and Recreation and bit parts on Parks and Rec and FX’s Louie. Speaking of the wonderful NBC comedy, this pilot is on my radar because Parks and Rec co-creator Schur is involved along with P&R executive producer Goor, whereas Miner was a producer on the equally wonderful 30 Rock.

2. To My Future Assistant 

• Premise: The assistants of a group of overbearing, annoying bosses at a large New York law firm band together to help one another handle the stress.

• Who’s involved: Two of the assistants will be played by Joe Egender (Fox’s Alcatraz) and Melissa Tang (Fox’s New Girl), and the legendary Catherine O’Hara has signed on as one of the grueling bosses. Sherry Bilsing-Graham and Ellen Kreamer (CBS’s The New Adventures of Old Christine) will write and executive produce. Dan Lin (the 2009 film Sherlock Holmes) and Jennifer Gwartz will also executive produce.

• Why I’m excited: The big draw with this comedy is O’Hara, who is such a talent, and I could imagine her having a lot of fun with this character. Bilsing-Graham is another highlight of the pilot, as she was a producer of NBC’s highly successful Friends. However, Gwartz is the producer I’m most excited about, as her credits include Starz’s Party Down and UPN/The CW’s Veronica Mars – both of which I hold near and dear to my heart. As for the plot, it sounds somewhat similar to the funny 2011 film Horrible Bosses, which makes me all the more intrigued.

3. Friends and Family

• Premise: A couple’s long-distance, blossoming romance is put to the test when friends and family constantly disrupt it. The comedy is based on the BBC series Gavin & Stacey.

• Who’s involved: Jason Ritter has been tapped to play the male lead, who’s described as “Gavin, a mid-20s, adorably neurotic and witty guy with Woody Allen DNA who is excited about his first real date with Stacey, a co-worker from rural Pennsylvania he became friends with through Skype and Facebook.” The role of Stacey has yet to be cast (Note to Fox: I’m available if you need me). The single-camera comedy will be written and executive produced by David Rosen (MTV’s I Just Want My Pants Back). He’ll be supported by a team of executive producers that includes actor Steve Coogan (The Trip), Julie Gardner (BBC One’s Doctor Who) and Gavin & Stacey writer Ruth Jones.

• Why I’m excited: I have yet to see Gavin & Stacey, but from what I’ve heard and read, it’s a hilarious comedy that I hope will translate well in the U.S. Mostly, the premise sounds cute and entertaining, and I’m a huge fan of Ritter after his role on NBC’s Parenthood. I don’t know how long the plot will be able to sustain itself (viewers will only support a long-distance couple for so long), but many shows abandon their initial premises as they develop, so it’s not too much of a concern. As long as the cast clicks and the writing is excellent, that’s all that matters.

Which is your favorite pilot from the ones I’ve chosen? Let me know in the comments!

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  • Leon Sandcastle

    So excited to see Rake. Greg Kinnear will hopefully be in contention for Emmys right up there with Cranston and Hamm (even though Hamm hasn’t won yet). I’m hoping this is the breakout role that makes Greg Kinnear known to EVERYONE!

  • http://www.facebook.com/ruben.d.luleyo Ruben Luleyo

    Frontrunner: S.H.I.E.L.D (#Team Whedon)

    Honorable Mentions: Influence (Kyle Killen), the untitled Wyman Project, the untitled Goor/Schur project.

  • FeRD

    The basic setup for Influence makes it sound kind of like a slightly-reworked Lie To Me, right down to casting Steve Zahn as a more-appealing Tim Roth.