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Thursday, February 26, 2009

Pilot Season

By Lisabeth Laiken

OK, quick, answer this — what will you want to watch this fall?

With everything going on in the world, can you hazard a guess right now where you will be and what you will be in the mood for in seven months?

Do you think you will want to watch shows about parenting? A family drama maybe? A family comedy? How about some more soft procedurals? Will you be ready to laugh at the exploits that happen after being fired? Or have your heart tugged by them? Will a new medical drama or two distract you from your woes? Or will you have had enough of reality and just want an escape, so maybe some familiar witches? Vampires? Aliens? Or do you just want to cut to the chase and see the apocalypse? Or the future? These are all options under consideration. Do any of them strike your fancy?

There are millions of dollars at stake right now trying to guess that answer. Maybe that’s why time travel is such a popular television theme; the network execs wish they could do it themselves!

Pilot season is a crazy carnival ride in a good year; this year it might be even wilder - how can the execs gauge anything with everything in such flux? And this pilot season wasn’t even supposed to happen. After the writers strike, the networks proclaimed very loudly that throwing money at an array of pilots didn’t work and wasn’t cost effective and they weren’t going to do it anymore. Well it may be true that it’s inefficient, but not doing it didn’t work out so well either, so they are back at it.

In the last few weeks, dozens of ideas have gotten the greenlight - to go to script, to be cast, to get directors - all with the hope that in March they will get the word to start shooting. If you are writing a spec script or developing your own television show idea, or if you just like TV and want to follow a kind of horserace, there are three great resources to keep track of it all: Variety's Pilot Watch, The Hollywood Reporter's articles and orders at Pilot Log, and The Futon Critic DevWatch. This last resource lists everything - details and history - with great filtering options!

The casting reports are starting to pop up. So much of a show's success depends on chemistry between set-up and actor. Just look at this seasons The Mentalist; its whole pull is what Simon Baker makes of that character in a rather middling show. Who would you like to see back out there? If you were writing a show, who would you want to be delivering your lines? I know that if Kyle Secor, John Hawkes, Emma Caulfield, or Caroline Dhavernas were to be cast in something I would need to check it out. Lauren Graham (who tops my list of MIAs) has a pilot for ABC called "Let It Go" that seems to be gaining momentum, so here’s hoping I’ll see at least one of my faves this fall.

Other shows on the radar already include the latest attempt to recreate AbFab (Kristen Johnston, Kathryn Hahn) and a remake of V. Two movies being dusted off and having their shoulder pads removed are Parenthood and Witches of Eastwick. The CW is hoping to attract the Twilight fans with Vampire Diaries. Hotties James Tupper and Michael Vartan have been tagged for medical shows, Mercy and Time Heals, respectively. Jenna Elfman is getting another go with Accidentally on Purpose and Amy Smart has her first lead in See Cate Run.

It’s way too early to say what will end up on the air. I have my fingers crossed very tightly for the new Herskovitz/Zwick drama A Marriage but who knows — a couple of years ago I was sure we’d be watching Judy Got a Gun and Nice Girls don’t Get a Corner Office. Anyone remember when those had the buzz? It was 2007. We got Cavemen instead.

Lisabeth Laiken has been scrutinizing television since they got the breed of dog wrong on Little House on the Prairie. After ending her college years watching movies and television critically in a joint Film Studies and Semiotics program, she went on to use two VCRs to collect and catalog all her favorite shows (over 500 tapes) long before DVR was a glimmer in anyone’s eye.

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Nicholas said...

I know for sure that I will watch just about everything at least once, just because I like to give everything a shot. I will also read most of the pilot scripts before I even do that.

So far, I know I will be watching Flashforward and "V". Day One is interesting as a concept, but post-apocalyptic fiction can easily fall flat. It can also be very good. I will definitely check out The Fish Tank, and hope that Human Target will be good. Then lastly there is Masterwork, which I hope succeeds, but will invariably be too expensive for FOX to pull off.

Marjorie Sweeney is a screenwriter who lives in New York. said...

OK, I am excited just reading this. Is the American AbFab finally going happen? Pop the bubbly! If all goes right it will the the female equiv of the Office. But why didn't they think of casting Amy Smart in THAT?

Luzid said...

I'm willing to bet that part of the reason for this new pilot season is the AFTRA contract -- tv is going that way thanks to the AMPTP putting the screws to SAG.

If I could see Skeet Ulrich again, I'd watch whatever it was. I loved "Jericho", even though it was a CBS (read: more conservative than I like) show.

I hear original pilots are in high demand, portfolio-wise, so I guess I'd better start thinking of a concept to tackle down the line.

Julie, how much of a cross-over is there between features and tv work in a writer's career?

Robin Kelly said...

Very interesting. I have to support The Mentalist though. There is quality writing there - way above middling. And a fine ensemble cast - it's not just about the lead.