Pilot season is in full swing: Casting has been going hot and heavy for weeks now, and cameras either have started rolling or will soon for most of the 82 shows in development.
And like every pilot season, there are some trends emerging in the projects the broadcast networks have ordered, in addition to the usual array of cop shows and medical dramas. Some are easy to explain (the networks all want their own “Modern Family” or “Glee”), others less so (what’s with all the fairy-tale stuff?). Here’s what you may be seeing come fall.
Once upon a time …
The networks got tired of vampires and decided to expand their otherworldly horizons. There is, in fact, a show called “Once Upon a Time” (which stars Jennifer Morrison, at left in the photo) in development at ABC, and like several others in the pipeline, it’s set in a world where fairy-tale legends and supernatural beings may be or actually are real. “Once Upon a Time’s” logline makes it sound like an ongoing mystery in the vein of “Twin Peaks,” but there are also cop shows with magic (NBC’s “17th Precinct”) and fairy-tale creatures (“Grimm,” also at NBC); a drama about witches (“Secret Circle”) and one about an angel (“Heavenly”) at The CW; and one featuring a haunted, or at least very strange, house in FOX’s “Locke & Key.” CBS even sort of has a horse in the race with its Susannah Grant drama, in which a surgeon’s (Patrick Wilson) late wife (Jennifer Ehle) teaches him lessons from the afterlife.
(There’s also the J.J. Abrams-produced “Alcatraz” from FOX, in which several prisoners and guards who disappeared 30 years ago suddenly pop up in the present day. Not knowing how or why that happens, we don’t quite know how to classify the show — although “J.J. Abrams-produced” is probably as good a shorthand as any.)
The next [insert show here]
The “Glee” influence is evident in a couple of dramas that promise to have some musical elements: NBC’s “Smash” is set behind the scenes of a Broadway musical, and ABC’s “Hallelujah” — which could also sort of fit in the supernatural category above, as it’s concerned with a battle between good and evil — will use a gospel choir to comment on the action like a Greek chorus.
More than “Glee,” though, it feels like networks are searching for another “Modern Family,” because family comedies of all shapes and sizes are everywhere. By our count, six of ABC’s 10 comedy pilots seem designed to fit into the family-themed Wednesday block; CBS has five family shows, including ones starring Michael Chiklis (“Vince Uncensored”; Chiklis is in the center of the photo) and Becki Newton (the Jackie/Jeff Filgo show formerly known as “Home Grown”); FOX has five, including one called “I Hate My Teenage Daughter”; and even NBC, which is still mostly doing workplace and friends-hanging-out kinds of shows, has a couple family concepts among its 12 comedy pilots.
What ‘$#*!’ hath wrought
CBS broke some ground this season with “$#*! My Dad Says” — not on screen by any means, but with a title incorporates a graphical representation of a bad word (“$#*!,” CBS will tell you, is pronounced “bleep”). So we probably have it to thank for pilot titles like “Don’t Trust the B***h in Apartment 23,” “Good Christian B***hes” and “My Frickin’ Family” (all at ABC) and what’s officially known as the “untitled Liz Meriwether project” at FOX but is also referred to as “Chicks & D**ks.” We’re hardly prudes on the subject of cursing, but these feel kind of cheap. We’ll be curious to see if the title stick should any of the shows make the schedule.
Out of the past
It’s taken a while for the networks to come around to period pieces a la “Mad Men” and “Boardwalk Empire,” but there are several in the works this year. NBC’s “Playboy” and ABC’s “Pan Am” (with Christina Ricci, at right in the picture) are both set in 1963, the same time as Season 3 of “Mad Men,” and a couple of shows go even further back in time: NBC’s “Reconstruction” (aka “The Crossing”) takes place just after the Civil War, and ABC’s “Poe” goes all the way back to the 1840s.
Have any pilots caught your eye? What do you make of the trends this season?