In the age of Netflix and Amazon, when straight-to-series orders are increasingly becoming the norm across the TV landscape, the need for the traditional TV pilot has diminished. For the upcoming season, an estimated 70 pilots are in contention, which is about 20 fewer than last year. In earlier years, the norm was over 100 pilots.
So if the quantity is going down, the quality must be going up, right? I'm keeping my fingers crossed.
But before a single scene has been made public, the upcoming 2017-18 season offers some surprises. For one, you might have assumed the success of NBC's "This Is Us" would have produced a batch of pilots centered on relationship drama, blended families and/or time shifting. But instead the major trends for next season appear to be procedural crime solvers, military dramas and family-themed sitcoms. There are also a number of scripted entries—both comedy and drama—with a space theme. And, as always, there are reboots of past hits vying for a comeback.
While I try not to judge shows I haven't seen, it's hard not to get excited about a new show from "Desperate Housewives" creator Marc Cherry. Starring Reba McEntire as the sheriff of a town in Kentucky, this untitled ABC soap flirts with political sensitivities by introducing a young FBI agent of Middle Eastern descent who arrives to help solve a horrific crime. This sounds completely unique.
Otherwise, let's take this category by category.
"For God and Country," on NBC, dives into the complex world of military heroes; "Behind Enemy Lines," on Fox is loosely based on the movie franchise of the same name; and "Valor," on The CW, is set on a US army base. While "Valor" would certainly be a shift in direction for The CW, there is also a fifth member of the DC Comics book franchise, "Black Lightning," ordered to pilot on the network. I guess The CW, like any network, does not understand the meaning of overkill.
There are new versions of dramas "S.W.A.T." on CBS and "Dynasty" on The CW, as well as a confirmed 10-episode reboot of "Will & Grace" on NBC featuring the original cast. NBC is also in conversations to revive "American Idol" after Fox retired it just one year ago. Yes, the network has had huge success with the "The Voice," which put a new spin on an established concept. But I just don't see the logic behind rehashing a singing competition that had been declining for years.
Thankfully, NBC has no new Chicago-set dramas from Dick Wolf in development; CBS will stick to three editions of "NCIS" and talk of a CW reboot for Aaron Spelling fantasy drama "Charmed" and a TV version of 1987 vampire flick "The Lost Boys" are on hold for now. But busy Dick Wolf does have an eight episode commitment for "Law & Order: True Crime – The Menendez Brothers" on NBC.
CBS, meanwhile, seems to have lost interest in redoing "The Honeymooners." Maybe someone at the network actually realizes no one can compare to Jackie Gleason, Art Carney and Audrey Meadows. And "Sheldon," the proposed prequel sitcom from CBS' "The Big Bang Theory" focused on a 12-year Sheldon Cooper, seems to have been shelved. The Eye net is probably more focused on getting the cast and crew of primetime's top-rated sitcom back for an 11th season.
Given the successful return of Kevin James in "Kevin Can Wait" this season (which, coupled with "Man with a Plan" with Matt LeBlanc are both shoo-ins for renewal), my guess is CBS will stick to more family themed chucklers. Two such pilots are "9J, 9K, and 9L," inspired by a time in Mark Feuerstein's ("Royal Pains") life when he lived in an apartment in between his parents and his brother's family; and "Hannah Royce's Questionable Choices," the story of woman with three kids from three different men.
Generating some early buzz on NBC, which remains sorely lacking in the comedy department, is an untitled single-camera sitcom based on the life of "Fresh Off the Boat" producer Kourtney Kang, the only girl in the only mixed-race family in the suburbs of Philadelphia.
There are also potential spin-offs from ABC sitcoms "The Goldbergs" and "black-ish," which will feature a backdoor pilot centering on oldest daughter Zoey (Yara Shahidi) attending college.
"Orville," a live-action dramedy on Fox that takes place 300 years in the future, comes from "Family Guy" creator Seth MacFarlane. Also look for drama "Mission Control" on CBS, which is about the next generation of NASA astronauts, and a workplace comedy on NBC called "Spaced Out," about a team attempting to build a rocket to Mars. "Ghosted," on Fox, is described as an "X-Files" spoof.
Other confirmed series pickups for next season include "Marvel's The Inhumans" on ABC, the latest entry in the Marvel universe that could ultimately replace "Marvel's Agents of SHIELD;" and ABC dramas "Somewhere Between," the tale of a mother who knows her daughter is going to be murdered, and "Ten Days in the Valley," with Kyra Sedgwick ("The Closer") trading law enforcement for life as a single mother.
Fox is also eyeing a Marvel drama of its own, still untitled, about two ordinary parents who discover their children possess mutant powers.
The broadcast networks will announce their official primetime programming plans to advertisers in New York the week of May 15, boasting to the hilt about the new series they ultimately choose. Of course, if everything really did succeed, there would be no need for pilot season.