'Tis the season to develop the next crop of TV series

A look at the titles and trends in this current pilot season.

Yes, I know. Midseason on the broadcast networks has barely begun and there are plenty of new shows to debut (and one recent entry – "The Masked Singer" on Fox – that is a breakout hit). But, in this fickle business, smack in a world of "Peak TV," finding an available audience is more challenging than ever before.

So, you must plan ahead, which leads us to this current pilot season. Is there anything new in development that sounds like it could click? And is there anything in particular to avoid?

As a preview to what could be announced during upfront week (always the second week in May for the broadcasters), there is one confirmed entry: "Law & Order: Hate Crimes" on NBC, based on the real-life hate crimes task force within the New York Police Department. From Dick Wolf, the series is a spin-off, of sorts, from "Law & Order: SVU," which will leverage SVU detectives for help with investigations. My early prediction: Mr. Wolf will have a new hit on his hands.

Another proposed drama that looks like a sure thing is a carbon copy of what I predicted last year at this time would succeed: "FBI’s Most Wanted." It is a planned spin-off from "FBI" and it sounds like a perfect fit to the home of crime and punishment tailored to an older audience: CBS. Unfortunately, this won’t be a show the critics will be talking about (nor will "Law & Order: Hate Crimes," or anything generic in the crime drama category). And, yes, talk about another potential winner for that man named Wolf.

Also of note in the drama pilot department is an untitled legal drama on ABC from Curtis "50 Cent" Jackson about a prisoner who becomes a lawyer and begins to defend other inmates while fighting to overturn his own life sentence for a crime he did not commit. Additionally, there’s "Tommy" on CBS with Edie Falco as a former NYPD officer who was just hired as the first female Chief of Police for the LAPD; and an untitled wedding-themed dramedy on Fox that will take place over the course of a single night at a wedding.

Marriage is also the theme in ABC’s "Until the Wedding," which follows what happens after one couple decides to get married. Then there is proposed CBS drama "Frankenstein," which follows a San Francisco homicide detective who is mysteriously brought back to life after being killed in the line of duty. The twist: The man behind his resurrection is Dr. Victor Frankenstein. And, on Fox, "Prodigal Son" from the very busy Greg Berlanti follows the son of a notorious serial killer called The Surgeon who has genius skills and knows how killers think.

In the drama revival department, I know a few classic crime solvers vying for a new spin (and both for ABC): "NYPD Blue" (with original cast members Kim Delaney and Bill Brochtrup) and "New York Undercover" (from aforementioned Dick Wolf). And The CW is considering bring back youthful super sleuth Nancy Drew. Given its current theme, I am surprised the network does not give Nancy superpowers.

Comedies up for consideration
CBS, not surprisingly, is considering a new spin-off from "The Big Bang Theory," which could ultimately attract early attention given the still massive popularity of the mothership. But the key to any successful future lies in risk-taking and creativity, not necessarily trying to milk some of the existing characters in a 12-year-old series into a new scenario. My advice to CBS: let it go.

A better idea, I think, is the Eye network developing a potential new sitcom for Patricia Heaton called "Carol’s Second Act," the tale of a retired teacher going to school to become a doctor. As my fellow TV historians might know, Heaton is the only actress in the history of television to star as a mother in two long-running sitcoms ("Everybody Loves Raymond" on CBS and "The Middle" on ABC).

Also sounding promising in the comedy pilot department: "The Baker and the Beauty" on ABC, based on the Israeli format, about the unlikely romance between a blue-collar baker and an international superstar; "The Emperor of Malibu" on Fox, the tale of a Chinese billionaire and his engagement to an American woman; and an untitled project on NBC about a New York City councilman (Kal Penn) who is faced with six immigrants in need of his help. The latter project, in particular, sounds timely.

Fox, which recently issued a two-season renewal to granddaddy "The Simpsons" is considering animated "Little Kev," based on the childhood of comedian Kevin Hart. Given the consistent erosion in recent years for Fox’s Sunday night comedy block, I personally would attempt a different strategy on the evening slot at this point.

Since ABC at present is known for its roster of comedies with a flock of children, I am not surprised to hear about "United We Fall." In this proposed multicultural series, the focus is on two extended families with young children (with smart mouths, no doubt).

Always busy Katey Sagal, meanwhile, is in contention for ABC’s "Nana," the story of a recently widowed father who invites his mother-in-law (Sagal) into his home to help raise the two granddaughters she barely knows. If "Nana" does not get picked up (or it does and it fails), I would not be surprised to hear of some network trying to resurrect "Married With Children" once Ed O’Neill wraps up "Modern Family."

Spin-offs in contention

In the spin-off department (in addition to "Law & Order: Hate Crimes") is "Jane the Novela" on The CW, which would focus on a different fictional novel written by Jane Villanueva and narrated by the author herself (with Gina Rodriguez from "Jane the Virgin" remaining the voice of Jane). While you have to admire The CW for keeping "Jane the Virgin" afloat despite the anemic traditional Nielsen ratings, the reality of "Jane the Novela" is also of minimal interest. After all, did you really watch "Jane the Virgin"?

Also on The CW is musical dramedy "Katy Keene" from the Archie Comics characters universe on "Riverdale," including fashion legend-to-be Katy Keene, as they aspire to make it on Broadway. What keeps "Riverdale" afloat is the strong interest in social media, which I do imagine would also surface for "Katy Keene."

In the musical arena is a proposed dramedy on NBC called "Zoey’s Extraordinary Playlist" about an awkward young adult who discovers she has the power to hear people’s innermost songs as thoughts.

Since no pilot season is complete without a potential new superhero, The CW is eyeing "Batwoman," a gay woman and highly trained street fighter who decides to combat crime in perennially troubled Gotham City. Needless to say, this would fit with any of the network’s current superheroes.


Series already ordered to cable include: "Y: The Last Man" on FX, based on comic book series "Y: The Last Man," and "Raised by Wolves," which centers upon two androids tasked with raising human children on a mysterious virgin planet. Both are for TNT. And USA will introduce "Briarpatch," with Rosario Dawson as Allegra "Pick" Dill, a highly skilled investigator working in Washington, D.C. for a young, ambitious Senator.

TBS, meanwhile, is considering single-camera sitcom "Chad," which will focus on a 14-year-old Persian boy (Nasim Pedrad) as he desperately tries to fit in. And Showtime is hoping to strike gold again with Don Cheadle ("House of Lies") in proposed comedy "Ball Street," which takes us back to October 19, 1987 – aka Black Monday – the worst stock market crash in the history of Wall Street.  

Must avoid

In the category of "I Hope This Pilot Does Not Get Picked Up" is comedy "Arthur’s Law" on TBS, which follows a man who is hoping his obnoxious wife will die so he can use the money from her life insurance to restart his life with his beloved mistress. Sounds hysterical, doesn’t it?

Then there’s comedy pilot "Work Wife" on ABC from Ryan Seacrest, which is inspired by Kelly Ripa and Seacrest’s relationship on morning talker "Live with Kelly and Ryan." Gag me!

And, in a new twist on the reality/competition formula, "Flirty Dancing" on Fox (based on the U.K. version) follows two strangers who are taught one half of a dance routine and then will go on a date where they have to dance. The twist: they have to decide on a second date without speaking a word to each other. All together now…huh? 

Subscribe today for just $116 a year

Get the very latest news and insight from Campaign with unrestricted access to campaignlive.com , plus get exclusive discounts to Campaign events

Become a subscriber


Don’t miss your daily fix of breaking news, latest work, advice and commentary.

register free