Pilot Buzz ABC
It is the most exciting time for year for those of us obsessed with all things television: it's pilot season! Every network is pulling out all the stops, fighting tooth and nail to land the best talent both in front of and behind the camera, desperately seeking that perfect mix that could take a pilot to the next smash hit series. All this week we're going to be running Pilot Buzz!, a look at each network and their upcoming offerings. We begin today with ABC, looking at the most interesting and exciting pilots, based on their writing team, their cast, and the concept driving the potential series. So what has got us excited about ABC’s newest slate?
For our Pilot Buzz series, I’ll be categorizing each network’s upcoming pilots under three headings: “Eagerly Anticipating,” “Cautiously Optimistic” and “Not Expecting Much.”
Let’s get started with the projects that look the best on paper with our Eagerly Anticipating section of ABC pilots!
Let's begin with the comedies that have made the cut, starting with 'Mixology:'
ABC Studios has teamed with Ryan Seacrest Productions to bring the writing team behind 'The Hangover' feature film trilogy to the small screen. John Lucas and Scott Moore have another alcohol and party fuelled project on their hands, however this one reaches the "Eagerly Anticipating" section of Pilot Buzz due to the high concept behind the series. The Logline for 'Mixology' reads: "Set in the world of a sexy Manhattan bar, the high-concept comedy chronicles the exploits of singles in search of love — all over the course of one night."
That's right, 'Mixology' is like '24' but for drunken hookups. Each episode will chronicle another portion of one night of drinking from the perspective of any of the six main characters of the show. Each character is in a different situation and is after something different than the others at the bar that night, be it an escape, some companionship, or just a distraction from their daily woes. The cast is Ginger Gonzaga, Kate Simses, Sarah Bolger, Blake Lee, Andrew Santino, Alexis Carra--no huge names amongst them, however 'Mixology' could change that status.
Given the interesting concept, the writing team and the slew of fresh new faces, 'Mixology' is eagerly anticipated.
'Trophy Wife' is the next comedy to make the short-list, bringing the beautiful Malin Akerman together with the talented and hilarious Bradley Whitford. Akerman plays the titular wife, a party-girl who falls in love with a wealthy businessman (Whitford), gets married and suddenly inherits three manipulative kids--and two judgemental ex-wives. Marcia Gay Harden, Michaela Watkins, Natalie Morales, Ryan Lee round out the cast. 'Trophy Wife' has had far more time to bake than many other pilots on ABC's docket; the project was brought together early, cast early, and there has been ample time for the writing staff to iron out any kinks.
Although Whitford is best known for his dramatic work on 'The West Wing,' as his recent guest appearance alongside Matthew Perry on 'Go On' proves, the man can bring the funny. If there is a possible weak-spot in 'Trophy Wife' is is the unproven writing team; Emily Halpern and Sarah Haskins don't have a lot of work--let alone comedy--to their credit as of yet. Still, every great writer needs to be given the chance to shine, so I hope that my misgivings are unfounded.
The final comedy in the "Eagerly Anticipating" portion of our proceedings is an adaptation of a British comedy series 'Spy.' The American version of 'Spy' will star Rob Corddry, from 'The Daily Show with Jon Stewart' and 'Harold and Kumar Escape from Guantanamo Bay.' Corddry has built up a lot of good will with American audiences over the last five years--enough to make someone pause their channel-surfing and say "Hey, it's that guy!"
The Logline for 'Spy' is: "A well intentioned father of a highly intelligent and verbal son, who also happens to be his complete opposite, inadvertently takes a job at the Secret Service in order to prove himself a worthy father." Joining Corddry is the lovely and talented Paget Brewster as well as a mysterious character to be played by 'Community's Ken Jeong. 'Spy' reaches the eagerly anticipated list because it is an adaptation of a successful formula (just look at the success of 'The Office' after American producers ported the best of the British series over) and because Corddry has been ready for a chance to shine for some time now. I expect 'Spy' to surprise many--in a good way.
As for the drama series on the slate at ABC, there are two pilots that join 'Spy,' 'Mixology' and 'Trophy Wife' on the Anticipated pile, beginning with 'The Returned.'
'The Returned' is an ensemble drama based on a novel which seems to be collecting talented character actors from all over. The Logline for the series reads "What happens when the people you have mourned and buried suddenly appear on your doorstep as if not a day’s gone by? The lives of the people of Aurora are forever changed when their deceased loved ones, RETURN… Based on a novel by Jason Mott." While the concept sounds somewhat zombiesque, with the dead showing up and all, producers Brillstein Entertainment Partners/Plan B assure that these walking dead aren't of the decaying and brain-eating variety; they are simply back. The well of drama and situation to draw upon given this premise is vast, as is the well of talent signed on to the project: Matt Craven, Devin Kelley, Frances Fisher, Samaire Armstrong, Sam Hazeldine, Nicholas Gonzalez, Omar Epps, Kurtwood Smith, Landan Gimenez, Mark Hildreth.
'The Returned' could conceivably flop but the fact that the series is based on a novel (which means harsh rewriting and focusing has long since taken place) and has amassed this cadre of character actors makes me very excited to check it out.
The last of our "Eagerly Anticipated" collection has a somewhat awkward title, however it has a marketing build-up unprecedented in television history: 'Marvel's Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.' How many television series have six preceding blockbuster feature films as a driving force?
Written by Joss Whedon (writer/director of 'Marvel's The Avengers') and his brother Jed, 'Marvel's Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.' follows the adventures of the government super-spy program in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. That's all that has been revealed, as far as plot goes, but really that is all audiences really need to hear. Whedon's ability to tell entertaining and moving stories through high-concept tv is more than proven and the appeal of the Marvel Universe (complete with several comic book characters that have never before been seen live-action) should be more than enough to bring an audience.
The cast of 'Marvel's Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.' includes Clark Gregg, Ming-Na, Brett Dalton, Elizabeth Henstridge, Ian De Caestecker, Chloe Bennet. Astute readers may recall that Gregg played Agent Coulson through three Marvel films before 'Marvel's The Avengers'... wherein he was slain by Loki. So... how is Coulson around for 'Marvel's Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.?' We'll have to tune in to find out.
That brings us now to our "Cautiously Optimistic" portion of the day. These are the series that could very well surprise us and become hits, yet they don't seem to have the buzz of the projects above--at least, that is, not as of yet.
We begin with 'Bad Management,' a sitcom that has been gaining steam lately thanks to some casting decisions. Alan Thicke and David Spade, sitcom veterans and very funny people, have rounded out 'Bad Management's cast... but the success of the series really comes down to Sharon Horgan. Horgan has written and will be starring in 'Bad Management,' which is designed to allow the Irish actress a launching pad in the USA.
The Logline for 'Bad Management' reads: "A slightly self-centered female boss at a high-end luxury goods department store finds her ways challenged when the boss’s son comes to town and makes youth and sex the new company focus." Spade plays the son; Thicke plays the boss. I have the utmost confidence in the scenes between those two funnymen. Horgan remains a bit of an unknown--here's hoping she lives up to the hype around both her writing and comedic delivery.
Another sitcom joining 'Bad Management' is the multi-camera project 'Divorce: A Love Story.' This project certainly has a fun title and an interesting concept--a divorced couple that cannot live apart--however the collected cast has never carried the weight of the spotlight before in their careers. The two divorced lovers are played by Canadian Jason Jones ('The Daily Show with Jon Stewart') and Canadian Andrea Anders. Both actors have held successful supporting roles but this is their chance to carry a potential series. A potential helping hand for 'Divorce: A Love Story' is that it is being adapted from the Israeli series 'Life Isn't Everything;' often having a tone to match helps new shows with those awkward first steps.
'Pulling' also finds itself in the "Cautiously Optimistic" category, as the odd collection of elements on the project could very well come together for a hit. "The story of 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," 'Pulling' is based on the British series of same name. The cast includes June Diane Raphael, Matt Oberg, Jenny Slate, Kristen Schaal. There has been a lot of buzz around Schaal as of late and she is swiftly becoming one of those recognizable performers that people either love or passionately hate. Depending on how well the British humor translates, 'Pulling' could pull its own weight.
'She's Got Balls' may change it's title once again (and let's be honest, they really should change it) but finds its way into the "Optimistic" camp for one reason: James Caan. The Logline for 'She's Got Balls' reads: "A recently divorced single mother temporarily moves in with her estranged father, a beer-swilling former baseball player. She reluctantly starts coaching her son’s underdog Little League team and is drawn back into the world of sports she vowed to leave behind." Caan plays the estranged father and the main character is played by Maggie Lawson. Caan is a brilliant actor who has been collecting the comedy roles over the past decade, transitioning through 'Mickey Blue Eyes' up to 'Elf.' Seeing Caan in a sitcom setting will be somewhat surreal however I hold hope that any project which made Caan laugh could be good enough to become a hit.
As for the dramatic pilots in this category, we begin with 'Influence,' another pilot that has wooed feature film actors to the small screen. 'Influence' is about the "relationship between two brothers — a bipolar genius in human psychology and a slick ex-con — who head a unique agency designed to solve their clients’ problems using the real science of human motivation and manipulation. In addition to helping clients, agency staff sometimes use their skills to manipulate each another." But here's the kicker: the brothers are played by Christian Slater and Steve Zahn. These Hollywood heavyweights bring an interest to a project that otherwise sounds like a weak rehash of Tim Roth's 'Lie to Me' from years ago.
Megalyn Echikunwoke, Cedric Sanders, Gregory Marcel, Wynn Everett round out the rest of the 'Influence' cast. Slater and Zahn's face-value is going to be enough to intrigue audiences; will 'Influence's plot be enough to convince them to stick around?
'Lucky 7' is an ensemble high concept drama with an odd premise that could either make or break the series. "The lives of seven employees of a service station in Queens are changed in many unexpected ways when they win a lottery jackpot. Each episode centers on a different character, and each season will follow a different group in similar circumstance." 'Lucky 7' is based on another British series entitled 'The Syndicate;' ABC is really pulling from overseas this year. The cast for the series includes Isiah Whitlock Jr, Stephen Louis Grush, Summer Bishil, Anastasia Phillips, Christine Evangelista, Lorraine Bruce, Luis Antonio Ramos, Matt Long; talented names however no one big enough to cause an audience to tune in just to watch them. This means that it will be up to 'Lucky 7's ability to pull off this strange concept without alienating viewers from one episode to the next. A tough task, but an intriguing one.
The final show in our "Cautiously Optimistic" slate is 'Westside,' formerly known as 'Venice.' 'Westside' is a forbidden love story in the vein of Shakespeare's "Romeo & Juliet," set in present day California. The Logline promises the series is "about the haves and the have-not’s of California’s most seductive city, Venice. 'Westside' will focus on two rival families and a forbidden and dangerous romance emerging between them as the two families battle for control of Venice." Featuring a cast of Odette Annable, Luke Bracey, Jennifer Beals, Bruce Greenwood, Lincoln Lewis, Michael Graziadei, Lexi Ainsworth, Brooklyn Sudano, 'Venice' sounds somewhat fluffy and cheesy... which is exactly what American audiences are clamboring for. 'Westside' is a simple and proven formula; while it may not be the sort of project that gets me excited, I'm observant enough to know that this is precisely the sort of project that can develop a cult following very quickly. Oh, and Odette Annable won't hurt matters either.
That brings us to the rest of the pile... the "Not Expecting Much" category. These projects are either lacking the concept, cast, or buzz to bring them to the top of the heap. However I have been surprised before! Sound off in the comments section and let me know if you think I'm way off about any of the pilots included here!
'How the Hell am I Normal?' is an autobiographical sitcom from writer Adam F. Goldberg. "Family comedy set in the ’80s that centers on an in-your-face mother and hot-tempered father who love their three eccentric kids so much, they can’t bear to see them grow up; inspired by Goldberg’s experience growing up in the ’80s with a highly screwed up but loving family" Cast: Wendi McLendon-Covey, Jeff Garlin, George Segal, Darien Provost, Troy Gentile
'Keep Kalm & Karey On' has gone through a few title changes, yet for some reason they have settled on the version with the initials KKKO. "Centers on the clean-nosed black sheep in a family of petty thieves, drug addicts, and narcissists. When her brother is sent to prison, she decides to raise his kids along with her adopted black son and give them the normal lives they deserve." Cast: Kelly Preston, Ashley Williams, Steve Talley, Jane Seymour, Haley Lu Richardson, Rhys Darby
'Middle Age Rage' is a traditional sitcom featuring 'MADtv's Will Sasso. "Chronicles what happens when a middle-aged wife and mother is fed up with feeling invisible and begins to speak up and demand the respect she feels she’s earned." Annie Mumalo will star.
'Super Fun Night's logline reads: "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." while Rebel Wilson is a hot commodity, 'Super Fun Night' already took a run last year at CBS and was not picked up.
Onto the dramas!
'Betrayal:' "A beautiful but unhappily married female photographer begins a torrid affair with a lawyer for a powerful family. When he turns out to be defending a murder suspect who is being prosecuted by her husband, the relationship and the case begin a spiraling series of betrayals with cataclysmic results for everyone involved. Based on Dutch series." Cast: Hannah Ware, Stuart Townsend, Chris Johnson, Henry Thomas, James Cromwell, Wendy Moniz
'Doubt' stars comedian Steve Coogan in a decidedly serious role. "Former cop is now a cunning but charming low-rent lawyer who uses his street smarts to work the system for his clients while battling his own demons and wooing his ex-wife." Cast: Steve Coogan, Carla Gugino, Mercedes Ruehl, Rockmond Dunbar, Greg Grunberg, John Pankow. This one could wind up far better than I anticipate.
'Killer Women' has a Logline with extra-cheese: "Molly Parker is the only woman in the notoriously male Texas Ranger — a ballsy, beautiful badass who knows how to get to the truth and isn’t afraid to ruffle feathers along the way." Cast: Tricia Helfer, Marc Blucas, Marta Milans, Michael Trucco, Alex Fernandez.
'Murder in Manhattan' sounds like the sort of series that would become a major hit in 1990; time will tell if it can recapture that old TV magic for 2013. "Hourlong dramedy is set in NYC centering on a mother and daughter who team up as amateur sleuths." Cast: Bridget Regan, Annie Potts, Enver Gjokaj, Brendan Hines.
'Gothica' could wind up as a pleasant surprise but gets shunted to the bottom pile because it was ordered in response to a similar pilot being developed elsewhere; copycat projects are often rushed and less-than-stellar. "A sexy gothic soap set in present day that weaves together a mythology that incorporates the legends of Dracula, Jekyll and Hyde, Frankenstein and Dorian Gray among others." Cast: Raza Jaffrey, Janet Montgomery, Chris Egan, Tom Ellis, Tracie Thoms, Emma Booth, Seth Gabel, Melissa George.
And finally, we have 'Big Thunder.' Why is 'Big Thunder' in the bottom pile? It is based on a roller coaster. "A drama based on Disney’s Big Thunder Mountain roller coaster ride at four of its theme parks. The series centers on a brilliant, late 19th century New York doctor. He and his family are given a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to relocate to a frontier mining town run by a powerful, but mysterious tycoon but quickly realize that not everything in Big Thunder is as it seems." Cast: Ed MacLiam, Ana De La Reguera, Alex Hassell, Zahn McClarnon, Alex Meraz, Ruth Bradley, Spencer Locke.
That's your Pilot Buzz for ABC! Check back tomorrow for our look at CBS' upcoming slate!