What will take the place of “Buffy the Vampire Slayer,” “Dawson’s Creek,” “Firefly,” “Miracles,” “Touched by an Angel” and “Ed” next season?
“Dr. Faustians” says he’s read all the pilot scripts – and runs them down for you!
I’ve been fortunate enough to get my hands on the scripts for all the fall season drama pilots in contention for a spot on the schedule – along with a few comedy projects. The development season has produced a great number of promising projects to look out for, but the question as always seems to be whether the most interesting pilots actually end up on the air. You can only go so far with a script, because in this business it’s just as much about the direction and the cast.
ABC (announces fall slate on May 13)
ABC has 12 drama pilots on hand, and already Rod Lurie’s “Lines of Duty” has been picked up for 13 episodes. This also goes for Stephen King’s “Kingdom Hospital” – a leftover from last development season – based on the quirky cult classic from Danish director Lars Van Trier.
“Lines of Duty” is a good script. It’s described as “tyro agents fighting organized crime” as we follow parallel storylines chronicling a mob family and the feds who investigate them. The story’s set in Richmond, Virginia where Paige, fresh from the academy at Quantico, is assigned to the local office. The feds are after the Malloy family, and now they have a man on the inside, Rex.
The story is engaging and delves deep into the lives of the people on both sides of the law – drawing that thin line between right and wrong, and Lurie is a good storyteller that weaves this complex story in an interesting way, giving room to a show with a number of great female characters.
This season has been disastrous for ABC’s drama projects, and with most of them already gone, it’s fair to believe that in addition to “Lines of Duty” and “Kingdom Hospital, the network will order at least three other drama pilots for next season.
My picks include “Karen Sisco”, “Alaska” and certainly one of the best scripts this season, “Then Came Jones”.
“Then Came Jones” from Chris Brancato and Bert Salke is my personal favourite this development season. There seems to be a revival among westerns, and although this pilot can’t match the edgy “Deadwood” from HBO, it’s certainly so much more fun and action-packed than “Peacemakers” from the USA Network.
This is not your ordinary western, that’s for sure. The hero, Ben Jones, is a lite version of Indiana Jones – complete with bumbling charm and sex appeal. But he’s also dangerously close to the dark side as he operates the Globe, El Paso’s main waterhole and brothel. Despite coming off as a suave and handsome cowboy, there’s more to this legend than meets the eye. Living in a small town on the brink of a new century – it’s 1899 and only a few days left of the 19th century – the story starts when the arrival of opium starts to turn the sleepy town on its head, and Jones is the first suspect. The Mayor warns him that unless he can prove his innocence, he will be hanged. As Jones starts his quest to uncover who’s behind – in cooperation with his childhood buddy Elfuego and young Quinn – he learns that his debt collector and husband of his sister could indeed be a part of this ruthless scheme.
To say more will ruin the pleasure of this fun romp that I would kill for to end up on ABC’s schedule. In some ways it reminds me of “The Adventures of Brisco County Jr.”, only without the supernatural elements.
Other interesting drama projects on ABC’s slate include “10-8”, about rookie cops in L.A. sheriff’s department starring Danny Nucci and Ernie Hudson; “The Street Lawyer”, based on John Grisham’s novel; and, “The Flannerys”, about a recovering alcoholic who gives up his big-firm job and, with the help of his Irish family, becomes a lawyer in a strip mall.
My comedy picks include “Hench at Home” from Michael J. Fox; “Platonically Incorrect”, about a platonic relationship between a man and woman who are friends and colleagues; “These Guys” from Tim Allen; and, “Untitled Henchy/Pennette Project”, the romantic comedy inspired by Henchy's relationship with wife Brooke Shields.
CBS (announces fall slate on May 14)
CBS has 11 drama pilots in contention for fall, and unlike ABC, the network has performed solid this season with a new “CSI” hit to climb up among the top 20 shows. Next season will probably see at least three new projects, and my picks include “Cold Cases”, “The Brotherhood of Poland, NH” and “The Law and Henry Lee”.
Although these three pilots made my cut for fall season, I also feel that CBS has a few more good projects at hand that could easily vie for a chance to end up on the screen. These include “Battle Creek”, about an FBI agent and a cop who butt heads in Battle Creek, Michigan; “Century City”, a legal drama set 50 years in the future; and, “Expert Witness”, an ensemble drama about forensic psychologists.
“Battle Creek” reminded me a bit about “Twin Peaks” in a way – the same sleepy atmosphere of the towns and quirky, colourful characters. The show comes from former “X-Files” producer Vince Gilligan, but last I heard the pilot was cast-contingent and I have yet to confirm if there’s been any casting choices or if the project is dead or simply pushed to midseason. Sort of reminds me about what happened to David Mill’s “Mayor of Baltimore” that attracted Alec Baldwin, but when that fell through it simply just faded away.
My picks among the comedy offers include “Harry’s Girl”, about a single woman's life, as narrated by her dog; “The Lunchbox Chronicles”, about recently widowed woman adapts to life as a single mom, starring Monica Potter and Andy Richter; and, “Two and a Half Men”, about a bachelor has to change his ways when his brother and 10-year-old nephew move in with him, starring Charlie Sheen.
Fox (announces fall slate on May 15)
Fox has 10 pilots in contention for a fall spot, and already two of them have been picked up for 13 episodes: “Wonder Falls” and “The O.C.” This development season puts Fox at the top creatively with a number of really promising projects.
“Wonder Falls” from Bryan Fuller was disappointingly trite and slow, while “The O.C.” from Josh Schwartz felt like a promising coming-of-age drama about two highly unlikely friends – dealing with teenage dilemmas such as love, being young and feeling alienated – in a fashionable way.
With Fox wanting to start the season earlier than usual – including original fare such as the original and stylish “Keen Eddie” – I feel certain that the network will probably order three more pilots, although I feel the number should be four as I find “Skin” to be a really unique “Rome & Juliet” story that can really click with audiences if done right. Not to mention that Jerry Bruckheimer is behind it. Anyway, my three main picks include “The Break”, “True Calling” and “NYPD 2069”.
“The Break” from John Stockwell is fun hybrid of family drama and cop show set to the beautiful backdrop of Hawaii. “True Calling” is probably one of the worst titles this season – even “Heroine” was a better one. Let’s hope they change it to something better as the show really kicks ass in my eyes. This show is in some ways Fox’s take on “Alias” with a strong female character who discovers she has the ability to go back in time for 24 hours at a stretch and save people's lives. Eliza Dushku is also perfect as the heroine Dru. This is a keeper along with Steven Bochco’s obvious future take on New York, “NYPD 2069”.
Strong contenders among the comedy projects include “Arrested Development” and “Untitled Luis Guzman Project”, but in my mind there are only two projects that deserve a spot on the fall schedule: “About A Boy” and “Cracking Up”.
“About A Boy” actually manages to transfer the sensibilities of Nick Hornby’s novel and the Weitz brothers’ film to an American setting. This is just as fun and good as the British version, and Patrick Dempsey is a great choice for the role of Will. “Cracking Up” was to be directed by Jay Roach, but now the Weitz brothers’ have taken over the reins of this script from Mike White about a psychology student who lives in the guest house of a Beverly Hills family with some issues.
Both “About A Boy” and “Cracking Up” don’t go for the jugular in laugh-out-loud jokes, but relies instead on thought-out and clever insides that make you smile and laugh at the sheer ingenious of the idea behind. In that way, these shows owe more to my personal favourite “Sports Night” than let’s say “Friends” or “Everybody Loves Raymond”. “Cracking Up” is clever, fun, dramatic and intriguing, and the family in question is one wacky bunch – the daughter is described as a delusional erotomaniac, the father a sociopath, the wife a bipolar alcoholic, and the oldest son an obsessive compulsive with repressed homosexual impulses.
NBC (announces fall slate on May 12)
NBC has 7 pilots fighting for a series order. “Homeland Security will probably get picked up, and although I’m a big fan of Tom Skerritt and Scott Glenn, I was really disappointed with the script. And as the network only need about two projects for fall; my picks include “Lyon’s Den” and “Las Vegas”. I will also put my cents on “EDNY” and “Future Tense” for midseason.
“Lyon’s Den” from Remi Aubuchon not only boasts a terrific cast, but also benefits from not being only an ensemble legal drama as the pilot adds a certain murder mystery to the proceedings. Rob Lowe has found himself a worthy new role after “The West Wing” along with a great cast including Kyle Chandler, James Pickens Jr., David Krumholtz, Frances Fisher, Elizabeth Mitchell and Matt Craven.
“Las Vegas” (formerly known as “Casino Eye”) is one of the more fun scripts this pilot season. “Fast and Furious” writer Gary Scott Thompson has created a show that reads fast and furious on the page, full of great, colourful characters and snappy dialogue. He also manages to build a foundation on which the show can grow on as we delve more into the personal lives of our characters. “Las Vegas” is basically about surveillance experts at a Vegas casino, and the role of Big Ed, the surveillance chief, is like written for James Caan. Rumour has it that the pilot is budgeted at a whopping $5 million.
“EDNY” is another legal drama for the network, but this time it’s about New York district attorneys and stars William Baldwin and David Cubitt. I really enjoyed reading about the various attorneys and their ongoing cases and personal lives, but I have a feeling that NBC prefers Rob Lowe’s project to this one and the only question is if it’s room enough for another two legal dramas on NBC’s schedule.
“Future Tense” is Javier Grillo-Marxuach’s look at a high tech law enforcement unit in the near future. This pilot really impressed me with its view of a near future much in the vein of “Minority Report” where we follow the legal, medical and cop aspects of a technological advanced society. My only question mark is the casting of Christopher Titus, but I really hope he works out in his role as a future cop in this intriguing and Aldous Huxley-like story.
Comedy hopefuls for the network include “Alligator Point”, about the lives of a fisherman and the residents of an eccentric Florida town and “Coupling”, based on the British series, about six thirtysomething friends who wallow in past and present relationships.
The WB (announces fall slate on May 12)
The WB has 10 pilots in contention for fall. The network seems dead set on both “MacGyver” and “Tarzan”. Well, I don’t know how to really say this, but they both suck. Especially “MacGyver” is hopeless – unoriginal and trite, while “Tarzan” seems just like a cute gimmick to produce another teenage drama rooted in popular culture. That’s why my picks for the two drama spots on the schedule are “Chasing Alice” and “Fearless”. I’m still curious about how “The Gilmore Girls spinoff” is going to turn out, but we’ll see if the network decides to go for it.
The WB has 10 pilots to choose from. My picks include “Chasing Alice”, “Fearless” and “Tarzan”. I wasn’t to impressed with the “Tarzan” pilot, and “MacGyver” was even worse. “The Gilmore Girls spinoff” is already a lock. Comedy picks include “Trash”, “Kid Mayor” and “All About the Andersons.”
UPN (announces fall slate on May 15)
UPN has 6 pilots on their plate. My picks include “The Edge” and “Vegas Dick”. Comedy includes “All of Us”, “The Mullet Brothers” and “Game Over”.