Monday, February 27, 2012

If I Were A Network Executive (Chapter One)...

It's that time of year where television networks are casting pilots that they hope to potentially pick up to series for the next season. They are hanging their ratings hopes-- and a whole lot of cash-- on attaching well-loved, even if not entirely well-recognized, names and faces to these brand new babies, knowing that with the right village doing the child-rearing, the little pilot that could may just turn into a bonafide hit.

Or at least that was once the case in the days of appointment television, which these days, technology has rendered antiquated. It's a shame because the quality of television programming has only gotten exponentially better in recent years, but because no one "has" to tune in to catch the episode live, very few choose to watch that way, making the medium as a whole appear to be on a downward slope. But my thoughts on appointment viewing really could fill a whole entry in and of itself, and today I am here to talk to you about pilot season scheduling. Because as I have been reading through the scripts that were picked up to pilot production-- and then reading about the lucky (or not, depending on what you think of said scripts) actors cast in the roles, I have been playing a dangerous, dangerous game in my mind: a game of What Shows I'd Like To See On My Fall 2012 Schedule. And it is a game sure to end in heartbreak for me. Even if some of my favorite pilots (at least, thus far on paper) do get picked up, it may mean the demise of a current low-rated favorite. So with a somewhat hesitant hand, I type for you my favorites from this pilot season so far.*

  • American Judy (ABC, would make a nice 8:30pm fit after Suburgatory, which I'd like to see moved into The Middle's current time slot) - Premise: A cosmopolitan woman (Judy Greer) gets married, becomes a fish out of water in the suburbs having to juggle step-kids, her mother-in-law (Mimi Kennedy), and the ex wife of her husband, who also happens to be the town sheriff (Elaine Hendrix). My thoughts: I will watch Greer in anything, and I still lament the loss of Miss/Guided, but rounding the cast out already with such fine additional females proves that ABC's comedy block is looking to take on the cattiness of Desperate Housewives and GCB, too.
  • 666 Park Avenue (ABC, would fit nicely after The River, assuming that survives its first season) - Premise: When a young couple (Dave Annable and a TBA woman) accepts an offer to manage one of the most historic apartment buildings in New York City, they unwittingly begin to experience supernatural occurrences, which complicate and endanger the lives of everyone in the building. Terry O'Quinn also stars. Thoughts: This certainly sounds like a toned-down American Horror Story, which may end up meaning a more coherent American Horror Story, which is something I would love to see done on television, presuming it's about drawing out and preying on the fears and neuroses of the characters, rather than just flashing grotesque images at them, and the audience in turn. Psychological horror has always been my favorite kind of horror, and I know O'Quinn can pull off just the right kind of suspicious and creepy! Maybe they'll even give him a scar over the eye for nostalgia (and mystery)'s sake.
  • Gilded Lilys (ABC, I honestly have no idea how to make this one fit since their previous period piece bombed) - Premise: Revolves around the opening of the first luxury hotel in New York in 1895 and the intermingling of love, treachery and disdain between the classes set against a backdrop of vicious family rivalries, scandalous secrets and conflict and co-mingling of the classes. Thoughts: Sounds like a soapy Downton Abbey to me! That is meant to be a compliment. Adding in the relationship drama makes such a reach back in time much more accessible and appealing to those of us who like trying to find something to relate to in our entertainment.
  • Untitled Louis C.K. (CBS, would love to see it tackle the tough Thursdays at 8:30pm slot) - Premise: An ensemble comedy revolving around young people as they try to achieve their creative dreams in these tough financial times. Thoughts: On paper, this one doesn't necessarily seem right for me when looking at format (multi-camera? I usually pass), but things can change, and with Louis C.K.'s sensibility, I would hope they might take into consideration how to best utilize his snark. But beyond that, the premise just resonated with me because it's exactly what I struggle with, and I trust Louis C.K. to not water down or artificially sweeten the outlook of things really at all.
  • Cult (The CW, Tuesdays at 9pm would be a nice fit, countering ABC's The River) - Premise: An inquisitive, young female production assistant on a wildly popular television show joins a journalist blogger in investigating the show's rabid fans. Together, the duo finds the fans might be recreating crime scenes from the show in their real lives-- behavior that has lead to a rash of disappearances and a likely murder. Thoughts: I'll forgive this show for stealing Jessica Lucas from my own pilot because it's just that interesting. The idea of diving into a "crazy" fandom, only to realize that the fans know more about what's going on that those who work on the show, is meta on its own, but here it's sinister and amazing on a different level. How much is real? That's what I would look forward to learning week to week!
  • The Selection (The CW, can we FINALLY create original programming at 10pm? Because this might be paired nicely with Cult) - Premise: Based on the forthcoming series of books by Kiera Cass, The Selection is an epic romance set 300 years in the future which centers on a poor young woman who is chosen by lottery to participate in a competition to become the next queen of a war-torn nation at a crossroads. Thoughts: Aimee Teegarden would have made a somewhat subdued Katniss, and that is exactly what we seem to be getting here. I'm all for watching that play out on-screen, assuming the romance angle here won't go the same was as Katniss/Peeta in The Hunger Games. I still find that anti-feminist, and The CW really doesn't need to be brought under fire for such ideas.
  • Let It Go (FOX, would work with Raising Hope on Tuesdays) - Premise: Ensemble comedy about a married couple, his best friend, and her sister as they try to navigate, negotiate and sometimes manipulate society's unspoken rules. Thoughts: Zachary Levi was perfectly cast as the dad here because as much as I hate voice-over, I heard his voice reading it in this script, and it just fit (and made me hate voice-over a little less). I admit I didn't laugh until the third act, but it's a charming Traffic Light with kids type of piece. I wish Tyler Labine had been cast in this one.
  • Untitled Kevin Williamson Serial Killer Drama (FOX, anytime, anywhere, but honestly should be on FX) - Premise: A thriller revolving around a diabolical serial killer (James Purefoy) who uses technology to create a cult of serial killers and the FBI agent (Kevin Bacon) who finds himself in the middle of it. Thoughts: This is a cable drama that could too-easily be dumbed down for the procedural audience if Williamson's not careful! But seriously, it is a story I wrote about five years ago, from the female perspective. I followed dual characters, too, a serial killer and the detective tracking her, in order to show just how close a person can be to snapping, and how close two sides of a coin can be to each other. I want to hug this one. It's like what would have happened if Sidney Prescott never killed Billy Loomis and he had gone on to hone his skills.
  • Animal Kingdom (NBC, ??) - Premise: An office comedy revolving around a House-like veterinarian (Justin Kirk) who loves animals but typically hates their owners. Thoughts: I'll admit it: I didn't get to read this one yet. But the premise sounds like it's written about the male me, so...I'm in!
  • Friday Night Dinner (NBC, should actually air on Friday nights, probably at 8pm) - Premise: An adaptation of the British series that revolves around the Goodmans (Tony Shaloub and Allison Janney), a traditional Jewish family as they observe Shabbat dinners in which twenty-something brothers Adam and Jonny visit their parents. Thoughts: I'm a fan of the original series and normally wouldn't want to see a remake, but it's so hard for me to get my hands on the original, and I love Janney's off-beat brand of humor so much, I have high hopes for this one.
  • Lady Friends (NBC, hopefully Wednesday nights instead of Whitney or Chelsea, paired with the return of Up All Night) - Premise: Two friends, Nicole and Jen (Andrea Anders and Rachel Dratch), who lead vastly different lives. Nicole has a perfect family and trouble-free pregnancy; while Jen has a strained relationship with her family, trouble with men and gained weight while on a diet. Thoughts: This comes from Kari Lizer, whom I just adore, and it sounds like Baby Mama without the actual pregnancy. NBC is all gung-ho about presenting a block of funny females, and this is one that actually made me laugh.
  • Untitled Hilary Winston (NBC, hopefully Wednesday nights on a new funny female block) - Premise: A shy and focused woman leans on her co-workers in a bid to come out of her shell and plot revenge after being dumped by her fiancé (Kyle Howard). Thoughts: First of all, Hilary Winston = comedy gold. Her memoir, My Boyfriend Wrote A Book About Me, is so candid and naturally funny that I'm glad certain passages were lifted and adapted for this pilot script. Second of all, Howard's voice was the one who came to me when reading the role of the fiance, a take on his Friends stoner student character, so the casting just seemed perfect. Bonus? There's a golf-cart chase in the script!
  • Bad Girls (NBC, any evening at 10pm except Monday or Tuesday because I want those to belong to Smash and Parenthood for the forseeable future, respectively) - Premise: Adapted from the long-running U.K. series, follows the ins and outs of a group of unlikely women in a federal prison: a scandalous female warden, her new protégé and a host of inmates-- some mothers, some friends-- who struggle with loyalties to people on the inside and outside. Thoughts: John Wells, will you marry me? This should be like Oz with women, but it's going to NBC, not Showtime, so I do have slight fears it may turn into GCB behind bars. I sincerely hope not, and I have enough faith in Wells and his writer Nancy Pimenthal to think this one will play by their rules, not some network formula's. This was one of only three scripts I could not put down and actively reached for more once I had finished with the pilot.
  • Beautiful People (NBC, honestly I think this would work best as an original made-for-TV movie; I don't know how it can sustain week-to-week without becoming melodramatic) - Premise: An imaginative and thematically rich ensemble "what-if" drama set 10 minutes in the future where families of mechanical human beings exist to service the human population-- until some of the mechanicals begin to "awaken." Thoughts: Just like Touch before it, this slightly fantastical world was extremely beautifully (no pun intended) imagined. But the idea that these machines may be broken because they start to exhibit human feelings? Well, it just seems to set up intermingling between the robots and the people, and I don't know (but am intrigued to find out) how that can work long-term.
  • Chicago Fire (NBC, maybe Thursdays at 10pm?) - Premise: Action-driven drama exploring the complex and heroic men and women of the Chicago Fire Department. Thoughts: It's like Southland but with firefighters and Taylor Kinney. HOT.
  • Midnight Sun (NBC, uh, Thursdays at 10pm?) - Premise: A thriller in which a female FBI cult specialist begins to investigate the mysterious disappearance of a group commune in Alaska who uncovers a larger conspiracy in the process. Thought: The high-concept and methodical nature reminds me a bit of The Killing, but admittedly I want to reserve full judgement until I learn who gets the main role.

Admittedly, there are a number of shows I want to like but am on the fence about based on current casting (hey, things can still change!) or fear that original idea will be molded to fit a network's already existing brand, thereby eliminating the elements I actually like about it. But as I make it policy not to review pilot scripts, you will have to wait until shows get picked up to know which those may be!

Thanks to The Hollywood Reporter for providing concise loglines. Trying to write summaries at this stage myself always produces books instead of teases.

*I reserve the right to change my mind once later casting announcements have been made and/or upon seeing completed filmed pilot. Execution really can change oh, so much!

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