Remember last fall's The Playboy Club and Charlie's Angels? Both shows quickly fizzled — but their failure didn't sour the networks on period dramas or remakes. Both trends are hot again as pilot season gets underway this winter.
As they turn their eye towards next fall, network executives are also once again eager to crack difficult genres such as sci-fi and westerns. And they're also betting on an even bigger multiple-camera comedy comeback next season.
NBC and ABC need the most new hits and appear to be spending more money than their rivals this winter in the quest for shows that are big, loud and different. NBC is attempting to get a jump on things by already ordering 12 comedy pilots (which presumably gives the Peacock network a leg up in casting its shows first). "It's like gambling," NBC Entertainment chairman Bob Greenblatt says of the process. "You really don't know what is going to work and what isn't."
It's still relatively early in the process, and the networks will continue to make pilot orders over the next few weeks. But as pilot season kicks into high gear, here are a few trends that are starting to emerge.
Remakes and More Remakes Execs know that you rejected shows like Charlie's Angels and Bionic Woman. But NBC hopes you'll forgive them when you see The Munsters, Bryan Fuller's new dark and dramatic take on the 1960s sitcom. The CW also believes that a new generation of viewers will be smitten by Beauty and the Beast, a re-telling of the late 1980s CBS drama that starred Linda Hamilton and Ron Perlman. And even though it's not a straight remake, the CW hopes that Sex and the City fans will want to see a younger Carrie Bradshaw in the prequel The Carrie Diaries. The CW also has a reworking of the DC Comics character the Green Arrow, last seen on Smallville, titled Arrow.
Unconventional Families Networks continue to dust off the family comedy thanks to the success of Modern Family — and like that hit show, today's TV clans have got to be a bit dysfunctional. ABC's The Manzanis stars Kirstie Alley as the matriarch of a loud Italian family that moves to the quiet suburbs. NBC has turned to Greg Daniels, who adapted The Office for U.S. audiences, to take on another U.K. comedy, Friday Night Dinner, which centers on an offbeat Jewish family. Fox's Little Brother, starring T.J. Miller, centers on a man who discovers he has a half-brother who's a criminal. NBC's Isabel, based on a French-Canadian show, stars newcomer Sophia Mitri Schloss as a pre-teen with magical powers. And CBS is looking to order one of two family comedies being developed with Martin Lawrence as a lead.
Girl Power It's a sign of the times: Just as this year's most successful new shows were led by women, female characters dominate the pilot pickups so far. Sarah Silverman plays a newly single woman in an NBC comedy pilot; CBS has dramas about a blue-collar female attorney (Baby Big Shot) and a mom-turned-cop (Jerry Bruckheimer's Trooper); and NBC's comedy Save Me is about a woman who thinks she can talk to God. Maybe it's the answer to the networks' prayers. And while Chuck may be gone, TV's looking to recruit a few more secret agents — but this time with females as the driving force. Fox has two spy-themed pilots: One from writer Karyn Usher about a teenage girl who's recruited by the CIA and another from Josh Friedman about a female spy in New York.
Literary Adaptations Brush up on your high school English reading, as CBS has the drama pilot Elementary, a modern take on Sherlock Holmes, while NBC ordered Do No Harm, an updated version of the Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde story.
The 1800s For viewers who think Downton Abbey is too modern, Shonda Rhimes' serialized ABC drama pilot Gilded Lillys is set in a New York grand hotel circa 1895, while NBC's western The Frontier, from Shaun Cassidy, takes place in the 1840s.
Sci-fi, Suspense and Fantasy NBC's Beautiful People, starring Frances Conroy, is set in the future, when androids mingle with humans. At ABC, a comedy from Dan Fogelman revolves around a family (including Jami Gertz) that moves to the suburbs and discovers their neighbors are aliens. Also at ABC, the drama 666 Park Avenue, based on the book of the same name, takes place in a haunted New York City apartment, while an untitled Roland Emmerich drama follows a man who discovers he must fight the forces of evil. The CW's Cult explores mysterious deaths tied to a TV show. Midnight Sun (NBC) follows the investigation of a commune that disappears without a trace in Alaska. And Shawn Ryan's ABC pilot The Last Resort is a thriller that follows a rogue nuclear submarine crew that declares sovereignty.
Modern Media Kevin Williamson's untitled Fox drama centers on a serial killer who uses social media to connect with other killers. NBC's comedy Next Caller Please follows the exploits of a female podcaster who also works in satellite radio.
Multi-Camera Comedy The continued success of CBS' Monday night comedies has convinced the networks to double down on what was once the standard sitcom form: Comedies shot with four cameras in front of a studio audience. Just as Tim Allen returned to sitcom form this season, another 1990s comedy giant is now plotting a comeback: Roseanne Barr will star in NBC's Downwardly Mobile, in which she plays the boss at a mobile home park. Also at NBC, Jimmy Fallon is one of the executive producers of a multi-camera sitcom about dads in their thirties. Alley's The Manzanis is also a multi-camera show.
The Tried and True Don't fret, fans of TV's traditional genres. The networks are still ordering plenty of pilots set in the cop, medical and legal worlds, and from top auspices: Jason Ritter is set to star in Jason Katims' NBC hospital drama County; Dick Wolf will executive produce NBC's firefighter drama Chicago Fire; and Greg Berlanti is also behind Fox's lawyer drama Guilty and CBS' police drama Golden Boy. Speaking of golden boys, Berlanti — with three pilots already picked up (including Arrow) — is shaping up to be one at the networks this season.
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