Tina Fey, Viola Davis, Debra Messing
Before the networks unveil their fall lineups later this month, we read nearly 100 broadcast pilot scripts, narrowing the contenders down to the 10 shows you're most likely to be watching this fall:
Cabot College (Fox)
Starring: Margaret Cho, Fortune Feimster
Summary: A women's college in rural New Hampshire, led by Cho's divisive president, opens its door to four men for the first time.
Pedigree: 30 Rock producers Tina Fey and Robert Carlock will executive-produce with writer Matt Hubbard.
Why we like it: The sharp, witty comedy turns a gimlet eye on gender politics as the quartet of newbies face the overwhelming horrors of... women! Plus: Feimster, a writer on Chelsea Lately, is a surprising discovery as an openly gay party girl.
Why it has a shot: With Fox declaring pilot season to be dead, the show already has a series commitment, meaning that there would be a sizable financial penalty should Fox not pick it up.
[UPDATE: CW has ordered The Flash to series.]
The Flash (The CW)
Starring: Grant Gustin
Summary: A freak accident gives scientist Barry Allen (Gustin) the power of super-speed.
Pedigree: The Arrow spin-off, based on characters published by DC Comics, comes from Greg Berlanti, Andrew Kreisberg and DC Chief Geoff Johns.
Why we like it: Unlike Arrow, The Flash has actual superpowers, which brings with it the promise of movie-caliber visual effects. And the charming Gustin is a true star in the making.
Why it has a shot: The Flash has a built-in following. The Arrow episode that introduced the Barry Allen character delivered the show's highest ratings of the season.
[UPDATE: Fox has ordered Gotham to series.]
Starring: Benjamin McKenzie, Donal Logue, Jada Pinkett Smith
Summary: Based on DC Comics characters, this Batman origin story is about the early days of Caped Crusader ally Det. James Gordon (McKenzie), his new mentor Harvey Bullock (Logue) and their battle with the villains — including Smith's sadistic mobster Fish Mooney — who make the city infamous.
Pedigree: The Mentalist creator Bruno Heller will write and executive-produce with Nikita's Danny Cannon.
Why we like it: It's a fresh perspective on Batman lore that will entertain fans familiar with the mythology. But Gordon's struggle to wear the white hat is also a universal police story, making it understandable to non-fans as well.
Why it has a shot: Like Cabot College, Gotham also has a series commitment. Add to that the current popularity of superhero shows, and it seems to be a lock for a fall debut.
How I Met Your Dad (CBS)
Starring: Greta Gerwig, Nick D'Agosto
Summary: The How I Met Your Mother spin-off tells the story of flighty Sally (Gerwig), who's stuck in a bad marriage and perhaps ready for a fresh start, possibly with Frank (D'Agosto), who has a major crush on her.
Pedigree: HIMYM creators Carter Bays and Craig Thomas and Up All Night creator Emily Spivey will write and executive-produce.
Why we like it: Its jaunty tone is similar to its endearing predecessor, but Dad's fresh female perspective promises exciting new narrative possibilities. Plus: The show will be narrated by rom-com legend Meg Ryan!
Why it has a shot: The network has a HIMYM-shaped hole in its lineup perfect for that show's existing fan base.
[UPDATE: ABC has ordered How to Get Away with Murder to series.]
How to Get Away with Murder (ABC)
Starring: Viola Davis
Summary: This sexy, suspenseful legal thriller is about a group of ambitious law students and their brilliant, mysterious criminal defense professor (Davis) who become entangled in a murder plot that rocks their university and changes the course of their lives.
Pedigree: Grey's Anatomy producer Peter Nowalk will write and executive-produce with Shonda Rhimes and Betsy Beers.
Why we like it: Though it's not quite as fast-paced as Scandal, it shares its intense DNA. Davis' character is so deceptive and manipulative that you're simultaneously rooting for her and also secretly wishing that she's the dead body seen in flash-forwards.
Why it has a shot: Shondaland has been ABC's meal ticket for a while now, and with a two-time Oscar nominee in the lead, it's a no-brainer.
[UPDATE: The CW has ordered iZombie to series.]
iZombie (The CW)
Starring: Rose McIver
Summary: A med student-turned-zombie (McIver) takes a job in the coroner's office to gain access to the brains she must reluctantly eat to maintain her humanity, but what happens when she starts inheriting the corpse's memories? With the help of her medical-examiner boss (Rahul Kohli) and a police detective (Malcolm Goodwin), she solves homicide cases to quiet the disturbing voices in her head.
Pedigree: Veronica Mars' Rob Thomas and Diane Ruggiero will write and executive-produce the project, based on the series from DC Comics' Vertigo.
Why we like it: This is not your typical zombie drama. It's more of a police procedural with an un-dead twist. The heroine only begrudgingly assists investigations as a means of self-preservation, providing a nice snap of tense, dramatic stakes.
Why it has a shot: The timing couldn't be better: Zombies are still a hot commodity and McIver's star is rising after a fun turn as Tinker Bell on ABC's Once Upon a Time and her recent casting in the Flowers in the Attic sequel.
Keep It Together (ABC)
Starring: Kevin Hart, Romany Malco
Summary: Based on Kevin Hart's life and stand-up, this comedy asks the question: Can a man (Romany Malco) and woman (Bresha Webb) ever truly be friends... after they're divorced?
Pedigree: Hart will executive-produce with Neil Goldman and Garrett Donavan, best known for their work on Community, and will also appear in a supporting role.
Why we like it: It's an amusing man-vs.-woman comedy that highlights the brutal, often hilarious one-upmanship that comes after a divorce.
Why it has a shot: ABC could really use the demographic diversity of the fans that show up in droves to check out Hart's African-American-skewing rom-coms in theaters.
[UPDATE: CBS has ordered Madam Secretary to series.]
Madam Secretary (CBS)
Starring: Tea Leoni, Tim Daly
Summary: A maverick female Secretary of State (Leoni) pursues international diplomacy, wrangles office politics and balances a complex family life.
Pedigree: Joan of Arcadia creator Barbara Hall will write and executive-produce with Oscar winner Morgan Freeman.
Why we like it: Leoni is perfectly cast as the strong female lead who plays ball in a man's world, but it's the underlying mystery behind how she got in the job — which has a body count — that will keep viewers returning each week.
Why it has a shot: It's very on brand, as CBS programming execs might say. Plus: It's easy to forget, but Leoni, the former star of ABC and NBC's The Naked Truth, was a big TV draw in the '90s.
[UPDATE: NBC has ordered Marry Me to series.]
Marry Me (NBC)
Starring: Casey Wilson, Ken Marino
Summary: Longtime couple Annie (Wilson) and Jake (Marino) get engaged only to quickly realize it's harder than it looks in this half-hour comedy.
Pedigree: Happy Endings creator David Caspe will write and executive-produce with Jamie Tarses and The Goldbergs' Seth Gordon.
Why we like it: If you're still mourning the loss of Happy Endings, look for Marry Me to be a more than suitable replacement with a similar, ah-mah-zing take on miscommunications, self-deprecating leads and side-splitting slapstick.
Why it has a shot: NBC is in desperate need of a comedy hit — and Marry Me is the brightest spot among the network's dozen or so comedy pilots.
[UPDATE: NBC has ordered Mysteries of Laura to series.]
Mysteries of Laura (NBC)
Starring: Debra Messing, Josh Lucas
Summary: A quirky female homicide detective (Messing) juggles high-stakes crime with her ex-husband (Lucas) and a devilish set of twin boys in this procedural dramedy based on a Spanish series.
Pedigree: The Tomorrow People's Jeff Rake will write and executive-produce with Arrow's Greg Berlanti and Aaron Kaplan.
Why we like it: It's one of the most relatable pilots on the list: Messing's harried housewife is great at her job, but is also kind of a mess at home. The new worlds merge when her despicable ex becomes her new boss.
Why it has a shot: NBC loves Messing, who top-lined both Will & Grace and the short-lived Smash for the network.
Which of these pilots sounds the most promising to you?