Sunday, January 30, 2011

Pilot Season Preview: Five Intriguing Greenlit Pilots

It’s a very interesting time of year in the television world- pilot season. Networks are greenlighting pilots, and major roles are beginning to be cast. It will be a while before we know which of all these pilots we’re hearing about will actually be picked up to series, but this year there have been an usually high number of pilot premises that sound especially intriguing to me. These pilots all sound so great that honestly, at the moment, I’m more excited about next TV season than I am about the current season. In this post, I’ll be taking a look at the five pilot reports I’ve read about that intrigue me the most. Some of them are intriguing because of the premise alone, some because of the showrunner (and sometimes it’s both the premise and the showrunner), and some because of an actor tied to it. If even two or three of these pilots make it to series, I will be a very happy TV viewer, and you (one, maybe two) readers will have some very interesting recaps from me next season.

Aaron Sorkin Project for HBO

There’s been buzz for quite a while that Aaron Sorkin was working on a project for HBO, and the pilot has finally been greenlit. The premise is behind the scenes of a cable news show, similar to the now-cancelled “Countdown” with Keith Olbermann. It strikes me as something that could be a sort of amalgam of previous Sorkin works “Sports Night” and “Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip.” Both shows dealt with the behind-the-scenes of television, the former with a cable sports show and the latter with a sketch comedy show. Here’s hoping this new project is closer to “Sports Night” than “Studio 60.” Now before you all start flaming me, I did actually like “Studio 60.” It had some especially excellent episodes, like “The Christmas Show,” but as a whole, I think “Sports Night” worked better because the show the characters were supposed to be producing felt more believable. Sorkin does especially well when his characters are dealing with politics, and unlike “Studio 60,” this project should provide an appropriate forum for the characters to do so. I think this will lead to a more believeable “show within the show.”

For more information:

Grimm’s Fairy Tales Pilot for NBC

NBC has greenlit a pilot from “Angel” executive producer David Greenwalt. I’m always up for trying any show that someone from the Joss Whedon stable of writers is involved with, so this was exciting to me before I even read the premise. The premise makes it even better, though. This particular pilot is a cop drama (not especially exciting), but is set in a world that includes characters like those in the Grimm fairy tales. It seems like it has potential to be dark and fantastical. I love attempts in television and movies to make fairy tales adult, such as “Pushing Daisies” and “Stardust,” and given how dark the original Grimm fairy tales were (Cinderella’s evil stepsisters cut off parts of their feet to fit in the glass slippers, people!), I think this could be the perfect example of the “Grown Up Fairytale” genre. I’m not thrilled that it’s being fit into the mold of a crime procedural, but “Pushing Daisies” didn’t suffer by having a mystery of the week for Emerson and friends to solve- the mystery was secondary to the characters and the beautiful world they lived in.

For more information:

“Grace” for ABC

“Grace,” which was recently greenlit by ABC, is a family drama set in the world of professional dance. I think this is an extremely original premise. Family dramas are a dime a dozen on television, but I think adding the ballroom dance culture into the mix could create something really interesting and entertaining. Carrie Ann Inaba, one of the judges on “Dancing With the Stars” is an executive producer, so she should lend some authenticity to the show. Most exciting to me is the fact that the writer of this pilot is Krista Vernoff, current head writer (and co-showrunner) of “Grey’s Anatomy.” “Grey’s” and I have a rocky history, but Vernoff is one of my very favorite TV writers, along with Aaron Sorkin, Bryan Fuller, and Joss Whedon. In fact, she once worked for Bryan Fuller when she wrote for “Wonderfalls.” I especially love her sharp, snarky dialogue. I’m excited for her to finally get out on her own and to see what she can do with a show that’s entirely her creative vision (not withstanding studio and network interference, of course).

For more information:

“Alcatraz” for FOX

“Alcatraz” is yet another pilot from the very prolific Bad Robot (J.J. Abrams’ production company) machine. “Lost,” “Fringe” and “Star Trek” are all Bad Robot productions that I have enjoyed in the past. This particular pilot isn’t going to be written by J.J. Abrams himself but by former “Lost” writer/producer Elizabeth Sarnoff. I think this may be the first Bad Robot show with a female showrunner, which I find to be very cool. The premise is that a group of Alcatraz prisoners and guards have traveled forward in time, and an FBI team that is pursuing them. I always like a plot that involves, as the Tenth Doctor would say, “wibbly wobbly timey wimey stuff.” This show promises to be good fun. I also think it’s interesting that this pilot was picked up by FOX. FOX is generally very genre-friendly in the sense that they take risks on pilots with interesting genre premises. As “Wonderfalls,” “Firefly,” “Sarah Connor Chronicles,” and “Dollhouse” show, however, that doesn’t necessarily mean they’ll stick with the show for the long haul. Here’s hoping this one breaks the mold.

For more information:

“Ringer” for CBS

“Ringer” could potentially mark Sarah Michelle Gellar’s first return to series television since “Buffy the Vampire Slayer.” This would be the pilot that I would place in the “interesting because of casting” category. It would be wonderful to see Gellar back on television. She was, at one point, cast in the HBO pilot “The Wonderful Maladys” with Nate Corddry, but that particular pilot was not picked up to series. Here’s hoping this one fares better, even if it doesn’t quite fit in with the CBS “brand.” Beyond the casting, “Ringer” also has a rather promising premise. Gellar will play twin sisters. One has fared much better in life than the other. The less successful sister is on the run from the FBI, and she ends up taking the place of her sister who lives a ritzy life on the Upper West Side of Manhattan. It looks like this could be a fun family drama with some legal intrigue. The fact that Gellar will get to take on two characters also gives this pilot the potential to be quite the showcase for her talent.

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