A Guide To The Pilots That Could Be Next Season’s Big Shows


Before we begin, a quick reminder of what it means when a pilot is picked up. It means that a network sees enough promise in the idea of a show to order one episode. Based on that one episode, a network will decide whether to pick it up to series. Historically, most pilots have not been picked up to series, but given the expense and added star power in most pilots these days, networks are more selective about what they choose to greenlight for pilots so more land on our television sets than before. However, pilots are sometimes scrapped before they are even shot due to casting difficulties, creative differences, or the inability to turn an interesting idea into an actual episode of television.

In other words, there’s no guarantee that we’ll ever see the following shows on our televisions. In some cases, that’s not a bad thing.

One show that looks particularly promising is Start Up. ABC has given this Zach Braff series a “put pilot” order, meaning that if it is not picked up to series, the network will have to pay a sizable penalty, which means this one will probably come to fruition. Braff — returning to TV for the first time since Scrubs — will star in this single-camera comedy about a guy in his mid-30s with a wife and kids who gives up his steady job to join the risky world of start ups. It’s loosely based on the experiences of Alex Blumberg, who left This American Life a few years ago to start a podcast network, Gimlet Media (home of Reply All, among any other excellent podcasts). Blumberg’s first podcast on Gimlet Media was StartUp, which tracked his efforts to create Gimlet Media. Braff’s post-Scrubs career hasn’t exactly taken off — and he courted criticism when he was one of the first celebrities to Kickstart his own movie — but with his Scrubs exec-producer Matt Tarses onboard, they could rekindle the Scrubs‘ sensibility and magic (and hopefully bring back a few of the Scrubs regulars). I’d love to see how they get to play PJ Vogt and Alex Goldman, the Reply All hosts. Tarses, will write the pilot and produce the series. Braff will direct the pilot himself.

Speaking of Scrubs, that show’s creator, Bill Lawrence, who had once sworn off doing any more shows for network television after a series of early cancellations, is nevertheless giving it another go with NBC with Spaced Out. Created by Adam Sztykiel (Undateable, Due Date, and Alvin and the Chipmunks: The Road Chip ), it’s a workplace comedy about a misfit genius who tries to fit in with his colleagues, who are working on building a rocket to Mars. I expect this comedy to be less like Scrubs and more like the broad Undateable (or a workplace version of Big Bang Theory), given Sztykiel’s involvement. I don’t have a lot of hope for it, but I’m still willing to give any Lawrence series a look.

Lawrence got his start on Spin City along with Jay Scherick and David Ronn, who also have a pilot in the works. This one is produced by Elizabeth Banks and it’s called The Trustee. It’s an hour-long female buddy cop comedy about a stubborn detective and her precinct’s trustee, an ex-con finishing out her sentence doing menial work for the department. The tone of the show is being compared to Desperate Housewives and Ugly Betty. The buddy cop show is in the midst of a comeback after the success of Fox’s better-than-expected Lethal Weapon. The Heat also proved that there’s plenty of viability in female buddy comedy format, too, although I’d probably prefer a series based on SNL’sDyke and Fats.”

While we’re on the subject of SNL, a couple of SNL alums, Seth Meyers and Mike O’Brien (a writer and briefly a featured player) have a single-camera comedy in the works for NBC about a cynical Ivy league college professor who loses out on his dream job and has to work, instead, as a high school biology teacher. In that capacity, he introduces his unorthodox teaching methods to his students, who he also uses exact revenge on those who wronged him. I like Mike O’Brien a lot — his “Sad Mouse” short film for SNL is classic — and he’s done strong work on FX’s Man Seeking Woman, but he has a very specific sensibility that I’m not will be a good fit for a network sitcom, although the high-concept premise seems to have possible broad appeal.

Another SNL vet with a comedy pilot is Tina Fey, who rejoins her producing and writing partner Robert Carlock for an unnamed pilot about two estranged sisters who pull off a Sully Sullenberger act of public heroism but then are forced to navigate their fame together. Their last effort was Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt, which NBC gave to Netflix after concluding it didn’t suit the network’s sensibilities. Ideally, this one will end up with Netflix down the line, as well.