There have been over 100 pilots announced this television season, but as usual, most of them sound dreadfully generic: Lawyers, doctors, procedurals, friends hanging out together, single-moms, blah blah blah. However, there were several with great promise, either because of the showrunner, the talent involved, or because of an intriguing premise (although not necessarily because they sound good).
There’s no promise, of course, that any of them will be greenlit to series for next fall (only about 40 percent of pilots are picked up to series), but of the announcements made so far, these are the 21 Most Promising Pilots. A few of these will vie for the slots left by the slew of cancellations we can expect in March and April, and if NBC was smart, they’d just greenlight their whole damn slate and start from scratch (except for Parks and Recreation). Not included among the 12 are those pilots that were picked up for series before a pilot was even shot, like the new Michael J. Fox sitcom and CBS’s summer series, Under the Dome.
21. Super Fun Night (ABC) — With the departing Don’t Trust the B—- in Apt. 23 and the likely departure of Happy Endings, ABC is struggling to find a successful sitcom, and they still have the post-Modern Family timeslot with which to play. Super Fun Night follows three nerdy female friends: Kimmie (Rebel Wilson), Helen-Alice (Lisa Lapira) and Marika (Lauren Ash) on their “funcomfortable” quest to have “super fun” every Friday night. The pilot was pitched to CBS last year as a multi-camera, but they’re trying again as a single camera for ABC and with the growing popularity of Rebel Wilson and departing The Mindy Project co-star, Anna Camp (both previously of Pitch Perfect), this seems like a solid bet.
20. Bad Teacher (CBS) — Name recognition still holds a lot of value, and while CBS is easily the highest rated network on television, it still has a problem with younger viewers (the average age of a CBS viewer is around 55). Bad Teacher — about a foul-mouthed school teacher searching for her next husband — would seem to fit the bill. Ari Graynor has landed the lead, and Party Down’s Ryan Hansen and David Allan Grier are also in the cast as fellow teachers.
19. Rake (Fox) — It is yet another legal drama, but this one is based on an Australian series, and those who have seen it speak incredibly highly of it. Greg Kinnear, making his television series debut, stars as a criminal defense attorney. Brilliant, frustratingly charming, and with zero filter, Keegan is one of life’s great addicts. His staggering lack of discretion and inability to self-censor land him the cases that nobody else wants, but behind that lies a resolute optimism and belief in justice that fuel his dogged determination to defend those who seem beyond redemption. He’s also got a lot of personal problems. It sounds like a suitable show to replace the hole still felt by the absence of House.
18. Gillian Anderson (NBC) — Conspiracy dramas are kind of hit and miss, but NBC is desperate, and since big titles haven’t really worked for the network (Prime Suspect, The Firm), they’re going after big stars. Gillian Anderson stars as a CEO named Meg Fitch whose daughter and daughter’s classmates are taken prisoner. The show itself, which will be produced and written by Rand Ravich with Far Shariat, will center on a vast conspiracy that comes to involve some of the most powerful people in Washington, D.C. Rachel Taylor (Charlie’s Angels) co-stars, and it sounds like the kind of show that wants to grab some of the success that Scandal has gotten.
17. Hatfields and McCoys (NBC) — It was only a matter of time after the massive success of the A&E Hatfields and McCoys miniseries before one of the networks would try to capitalize. A desperate NBC leapt. Set in present day Pittsburgh, a startling death re-ignites the feud between these two legendary families. It’s got a decent cast, and all the hallmarks of a Dallas-like soap opera. On any other network, I wouldn’t give it a huge shot at a greenlight, but on NBC and with Rebecca De Mornay, Sophia Bush, and Virginia Madsen in the cast, I suspect it will get the go.
16. Bad Robot Pilot (Fox) — J.J. Abrams’ production company, Bad Robot, isn’t exactly stellar with keeping shows on the air, but they are good at creating pilots and getting them greenlit. This one is interesting, and my biggest hesitation is that it might be too high concept for network television. The buddy cop show is set in the near future when all LAPD officers are partnered with highly evolved human-like androids. It centers on one such pairing, cop John Kennex and his android partner Dorian, who is played by the awesome Michael Ealy. Michael Irby (The Unit) and Brit Mackenzie Crook (The UK’s The Office) are also on board.
15. Bill Lawrence’s Pilot (TBS) — This may be a simple case of wishful thinking, but Bill Lawrence does have a good working relationship with TBS — which airs Cougar Town — and reuniting with John C. McGinley from his Scrubs days pleases me to no end. It’s a multi-camera sitcom set in the world of corporate America, where a 29-year-old successful alpha male crosses paths with his company’s support staff, a tight-knit group of truly happy and care-free people, and quickly realizes he’s not nearly as happy as he thought he was. McGinley will play his overbearing boss, obviously.
14. Friends and Family (Fox) — A remake of the British series, Gavin and Stacey, they’re bringing along the original creators to develop the remake. The U.S version is a bit different: It will focus on the key life moments of the title characters, who try to maintain their relationship while combining their polarizing families’ lives (the original focused on a long-distance relationship). I’m betting on this, however, because of the solid, sitcom-friendly cast: Jason Ritter (Parenthood) and Alexis Bledel (Gilmore Girls), although it is strange that Ritter would trade one Gilmore Girl love interest (Lauren Graham in Parenthood) for another.
13. Mixology (ABC) — There’s not a big name cast in Mixology, and the writers behind it (Jon Lucas and Scott Moore, who also wrote The Hangover) aren’t exactly household names, but I’ve heard things from other folks who have read the script that suggest the pilot will be amazing. Set in the world of a sexy Manhattan bar, the high-concept Mixology chronicles the exploits of singles in search of love — all over the course of one night. Kate Simses, Blake Lee, Andrew Santino, Mercedes Masohn, Alexis Carra make up the cast, and I don’t recognize a one of them, but Ryan Seacrest’s company apparently had enough faith in it getting the greenlight to come aboard as a producer earlier this week.
12. Untitled Jim Gaffigan Pilot (CBS) — I actually like Jim Gaffigan, but this show — a semi-autobiographical series about a guy named Jim lives with his wife and two kids in a small two-bedroom apartement in NYC — sounds kind of dumb, but also perfect for CBS, likely as a companion to a show like Mike and Molly. Mira Sorvino will play Gaffigan’s wife. It’s a multicamera laugh-track comedy, but that’s exactly what CBS loves. The one downside: CBS has a lot of promising pilots, but very few available slots but they have to start thinking about a future without How I Met Your Mother and Two and a Half Men.
11. To My Future Assistant (Fox) — The single-camera project sounds like Horrible Bosses without the murder plots. It’s revolves around the assistants at a big New York law firm who band together as a family to help each other cope with the obnoxious, overbearing bosses who test their sanity on a daily basis. The selling point, however, is the stellar cast, especially among the bosses: Catherine O’Hara and Stephen Root have signed on to play employers, while Brittany Snow will play the lead assistant.
10. About a Boy (NBC) — NBC turned down Jason Katims’ hospital pilot last season, but since Parenthood and Friday Night Lights are two of the only great dramas that NBC has had on its schedule over the last several years, I’m guessing that this one — based on the Nick Hornby novel — will get the go ahead. David Walton (who played Jess’ doctor boyfriend on New Girl) has landed the lead, while Minnie Driver snagged the single-mother neighbor role originated by Toni Collette. Kind of perfect. This one will not only get a greenlight, I will actually watch it.
9. Intelligence (CBS) — Yet another CBS procedural, the ones that land a greenlight almost always do well. This one focuses on a unit inside U.S. Cyber Command that has been created around one agent with a very special gift -— a microchip that has been implanted in his brain that allows him to access the entire electromagnetic spectrum. It’s sounds a little too high-concept for CBS, but Josh Holloway has landed the lead (and CBS loves former <>Lost cast members, see Hawaii Five-O) and Marg Helgenberger also stars, and she just screams CBS PROCEDURAL, probably a companion to Persons of Interest should CBS want to use Elementary to boost another night.
8. Pulling (ABC) — Another pilot based on a British series, this one comes from The Office’s Lee Eisenberg and Gene Stupnitsky. It’s about three dysfunctional women in their 30s living their lives the way they want, even if society tells them they should have it all figured out by this point. The selling point? Mandy Moore. She was great in Scrubs, and she’s a better comedic presence than you might realize.
7. Untitled Greg Garcia Pilot (CBS) — Again, this is a case where the biggest hold up may be CBS’s limited primetime real estate, but clearly a lot of people have put stock in this one. Greg Garcia left his post as showrunner to focus on the multicamera series, which is about recently divorced man whose life gets more complicated when his parents have marital problems of their own. Will Arnett left Up All Night to tackle his third series since Arrested Development, and Beau Bridges, JB Smoove, and Margo Martindale have also signed on as series regulars.
6. Crazy Ones (CBS) — Honestly, this pilot sounds awful, but again CBS has nabbed top tier talent which makes this comedy a near certainty: Robin Williams and Sarah Michelle Gellar as a father and daughter working at an ad agency. If that’s not enough, David Kelley is the creator/showrunner, which makes it the trifecta of washed-up talent. CBS loves washed-up talent.
5. Beverly Hills Cop (CBS) — Out of the gate, this was one of the first pitches to get a pilot to greenlight. The continuation of the movie franchise comes from showrunner Shawn Ryan and will feature at least one guest appearance from Eddie Murphy himself, handing the reins off to his son (Brandon T. Jackson). Kevin Pollak and Christine Lahti also round out the cast as detectives, though why Judge Reinhold wasn’t brought back is a complete mystery to me. What else has he got to do?
4. Untitled Michael Schur Pilot (Fox) — Another Fox series, their most high-profile sitcom pilot, this one comes from Michael Schur (Parks and Recreation). The show — about a diverse group of detectives in a precinct at the very edge of New York City — has a stellar television cast that includes Andy Samberg, Andre Braugher, and Terry Crews.
3. Mom (CBS) — Yet ANOTHER CBS sitcom, Mom comes from Chuck Lorre (boo!), but with CBS’s biggest showrunner behind it, and a cast that includes Anna Faris, Allison Janney, Nate Corddry, Matt Jones (Badger from Breaking Bad) and French Stewart, how can this not get the greenlight? It helps that it’s the most high-profile of similar sitcom premises this season, as it’s another about a newly (sober) single mom who movies in with her mom (Janney) and tries to pull her life together in Napa Valley (Napa Valley = Drunk Janney = Comedy Gold).
2. Vatican (Showtime) — Showtime is already more choosy about which pitches it picks up for pilots, so the odds were already in this drama’s favor before it landed the casting get of the season, in Kyle Chandler. Matthew Goode and Anna Friel will also star in the provocative contemporary genre thriller about spirituality, power and politics set against the modern-day political machinations within the Catholic church. The series will explore the relationships and rivalries as well as the mysteries and miracles behind one of the world’s most hidden institutions. The Pope stepping down last week only makes this series even more relevant.
1. S.H.I.E.L.D. (ABC) — The pilot could be absolute ass (it won’t be), but ABC would have to be dumbest network on the planet (or NBC) to turn down the Joss Whedon series based on characters from the third highest-grossing film of all time. Clark Gregg returns, and there’s a lot of potential for other high-profile cameos. As currently comprised, the international peace-keeping group already includes Ming-Na, Brett Dalton, Elizabeth Henstridge, Ian De Caestecker, and Chloe Bennet in its cast, and has Whedon has an exec producer and director of the pilot, as well as his brother, Jed, and Maurissa Tancharoen as showrunners.