Monday, April 4, 2011

Fantasy Network Mogul: Part 1 - ABC

We're at the point in pilot season where a lot of pilots are winding down production and are either in post, or are preparing for delivery to the network. There, the creators will wait on pins and needles while network executives screen their wares and decide what's worthy of a spot on their lineup.

I got a copy of the competitive pilot report, which is a list of every pilot in development for each network. After looking through the list, I decided it might be fun to assess each network, and take a stab at guessing what looks like it'll make the line-up. In most cases, I'm going on little more than the logline and the talent attached, so this isn't going to be the most informed opinion. But, in a month, it'll be interesting to see how closely my guesses line up with the series orders.

We'll start with ABC, which looks like the most interesting battleground this pilot season. This is Paul Lee's first pilot season as network president. He was elevated last summer after building ABC Family into the neo-WB its become, so I wouldn't be surprised to see his line-up attempt to skew younger. In fact, just looking at the numbers, there are big signs that he's prepping ABC for a makeover.

ABC ordered the most pilots of any of the five networks this season: 10 comedies and 15 dramas.

Canceled: My Generation, The Whole Truth
Endangered: Better With You, Brothers & Sisters, Desperate Housewives, Detroit 187, Mr. Sunshine, No Ordinary Family, Off The Map, V

That's potentially 10 slots that could be vacant next season. I'm guessing we'll see at least seven of those shows go, and probably more of them than that. (At this point, I'd really only bet on Brothers & Sisters, Desperate Housewives and V as being likely returning shows, and V's just barely hanging on by a thread in the view of most industry observers.)

There's always the chance that the loglines don't do a premise justice, so I don't want to mock the entries that I think are longshots. Having said that, if the loglines are anything to go by, ABC's comedy development this season could have been a lot stronger.

What ABC is likely to pick up:

Comedy -

The Last Days of Man
Logline: A multi-camera family comedy series centering on a man who is fighting for his manhood while surrounded by a world of women.
Cast: Tim Allen, Nancy Travis
Writer: Jack Burdett
Thoughts: Tim Allen's due for a comeback, everyone loves Nancy Travis, single-cams are big on ABC, and Burdett's credits include five years on 30 Rock.

Lost & Found
Logline: A multi-camera comedy series centering on a self-centered party girl whose life is turned upside down when the son she gave up, who is now eighteen and straightlaced, shows up on her New York City doorstep.
Cast: Jordana Spiro
Writer: Marisa Coughlin
Thoughts: Writer Coughlin is probably better known for her acting career, but the premise stands out among ABC's other offerings. Never underestimate how much networks like Jordana Spiro, either.

Logline: A multi-camera comedy centering on a married couple and their relationship with their respective in-laws.
Cast: Marcia Gay Harden, John C. McGinley, Adam Arkin, Kyle Howard
Writers: Andrew Reich, Ted Cohen
Thoughts: Kudos to the casting people. The logline makes the show sound like an Everybody Loves Raymond riff, but to get some of those actors, the script must do something right. Reich & Cohen have a long list of credits, with the most notable being many years on Friends.

Dramas - It should be said that ABC's dramas are probably the most competitive of any network's this season. The fact that so much of the line-up is in flux makes the pick-ups even more unpredictable. There are fifteen shows on the list, and more than 2/3 of them easily have the ring of something that could make the line-up.

Charlie's Angels
Logline:A dramatic series based on the 1970's comedic drama centering on a trio of sexy female detectives working for a mysterious boss named Charlie.
Cast: Annie Ilonzeh, Minka Kelly, Rachael Taylor, Ramon Rodriguez
Writers: Alfred Gough, Miles Millar
Thoughts: Gough & Miller had their most recent success with Smallville. Word is that the script isn't great, but I could see ABC picking this up based on the brand and a desire to appeal to a younger audience.

Good Christian Bitches
Logline: Dramedy based on the novel of the same name in which a recently divorced mother of two moves back to the affluent Dallas neighborhood where she grew up to get a fresh start. Instead, she finds herself caught in the middle of a world of gossip, Botox and fraud.
Cast: Annie Potts, Leslie Bibb, Miriam Shor, Marisol Nichols, David James Elliott, Kristin Chenoweth
Creatives: Robert Harling (writer), Alan Poul (director), Darren Star (EP)
Thoughts: The "in" thing this season is to adapt a novel, and Paul Lee had success with that approach on ABC Family's Pretty Little Liars. The cast here is very strong. This is writer Harling's first TV work, but director Poul's credits include Six Feet Under. Starr's name should be recognizable to fans of Sex & The City, Melrose Place, and both incarnations of 90210.

Logline: A dramatic series set against the world of miracles in small town Hallelujah, Tennessee that's being torn asunder by the forces of good and evil until a mysterious stranger moves to town.
Cast: Jesse Martin, Frances O’Connor, Arielle Kebbel, Terry O’Quinn, Donal Logue, Della Reese
Creatives: Marc Cherry (writer), Michael Apted (director)
Thoughts: Good cast, a writer in good standing on ABC, and a high-concept idea all add up to an order. ABC typically orders at least one of these supernatural shows a season, so we'll see if that holds.

Logline: When a female FBI agent's son is kidnapped she travels all over Europe to find him
Cast: Ashley Judd
Creatives: Greg Poirer (writer), Steve Shill (director)
Thoughts: It's already ordered to series, and it's Poirer's first foray into series TV.

Once Upon a Time
Logline: A drama set in small town Maine centering on a female character in a fairy tale-inspired world.
Cast: Lana Parrilla, Ginnifer Goodwin, Robert Carlyle, Jennifer Morrison
Creatives: Adam Horowitz, Eddie Kitsis (writers), Mark Mylod (director)
Thoughts: I haven't read a great many pilots this season, but I did read this one. It's VERY strong script, and the opinion of many I've talked to is that it's ABC's best pilot script, if not one of the best of the entire pilot season. I'd be shocked not to see this make the lineup.

Logline: A contemporary re-imagining of The Count of Monte Cristo from a female perspective - chronicles the story of a mysterious young woman who comes to the Hamptons to exact revenge on the people who destroyed her family.
Cast: Emily VanCamp, Madeline Stowe, Nick Weschler, Connor Paolo, Henry Czerny
Creatives: Mike Kelley (writer), Phillip Noyce (director)
Thoughts: The presence of feature director Noyce (Salt) is worth taking note of. The premise feels like it'd be at home next to Brothers & Sisters and Desperate Housewives, so the fates of those shows probably will have an impact here. I'm a fan of VanCamp, Weschler and Paolo from their WB/CW days, so I'm pulling for them here. The pilot script's gotten generally good reviews too.

Overall, the pickups depend on how much Lee wants to makeover ABC's lineup. I'm probably not 100% right, but I'd gamble on seeing several of these debut next fall.

Part 2: CBS
Part 3: FOX
Part 4: NBC
Part 5: The CW


  1. Nice! I've been doing a similar fantasy mogul thing on my blog (I reviewed GCB a few weeks ago and I agree, it's gonna get picked up). For comedy, I'd also bet on "My Freakin' Family" (even if it is a Modern Familyesque rip off) and for drama I'd be surprised if the new Krista Vernoff/Carrie Ann Inaba show "Grace" and Josh Schwartz's "Georgetown" don't somehow make the cut...looks like ABC is trying to revamp a bunch this year.

  2. I've not heard much positive buzz about "My Freakin Family" and the logline didn't instill much confidence. If there's an ABC comedy that gets picked up that's NOT on my list, I'd lay odds on it being "Man Up" from Chris Moynihan.

    "Georgetown" was one I agonized over, because I agree, it stands a shot, but I could also see them deciding that they want to steer clear of politics with an election year coming up.

    I haven't read "Grace" and so the only thing I had to go off of were the creatives and the logline of: "A dramatic series centering on a dysfunctional family who are in the dance world." Amid everything else ABC is developing, I'm ranking that near the bottom.

  3. Ug! Charlie's Angels does NOT need a remake. The movies were craptastic enough. Leave them alone, already!

    And as for "Good Christian Bitches" - sorry, it might be the greatest thing since sliced bread, God Him/Herself might be a fan, but I, for one, won't watch it based on the title alone. I'm sick and tired of people taking pot shots at religion. Especially since there's so much proof that faith actually makes life better. IE: Believers (in ANY religion) are more likely to recycle, less likely to commit crimes, recover from illnesses faster, etc.

    Wish someone was brave enough to show that in a series instead of taking the easy way out.

    As for Desperate Housewives, I do hope it gets canceled. I never understood the appeal of watching a show about a bunch of dumb sluts cheat on their husbands.

    Sorry, I'm a call it as I see it type.

  4. You missed two Major Drama Contenders on ABC - "Grace" and "Georgetown":

    I hear that "Grace" - one of ABC's MUSICAL shows - has had a fantastic production and that the Dance numbers are incredible! Top that with the fact it's from former Grey's showrunner Krista Varnoff, and the audience cross-section with Dancing With The Stars, and I'd be shocked if this wasn't a serious contender. The script isn't terrible either, but the network could be concerned of going to series with Eric Roberts in the lead... could it be Charlie Sheen all over again?

    "Georgetown" was the one of the BEST pilots I've read this season. And one would think that it's meshing of "The West Wing" and "Grey's Anatomy" would be a disaster, but it actually is pulled off really well, giving us not only a show set in bot-boiling Washington DC in today's political climate, but gives us genuinely fleshed out characters that we care about. It's both relevant, has a young cast, and is SMART. I see this as a no-brainer pick-up to give ABC some much needed "Critical Darling" and "Emmy Contention" support in the drama category. And it's accessible enough that it could even become a hit.

  5. "Georgetown" is tough, I think the bigger non-political problem with it for ABC is that they already tried a "young professionals in a cutthroat work place" show ("The Deep End") which I see that as a strike against it (plus the show feels more CW than ABC to me).

    I think "Grace" is gonna surprise you and get picked up...I haven't read it yet, but Krista Vernoff has written some good stuff (Wonderfalls...the best eps of Grey's in my opinion) plus, I think the network is hungry for musical/performance based shows because of their success with "Dancing with the Stars" and the whole "Glee" effect (although maybe "Hallelujah" is gonna fill that spot). Also, whatever happened to the musical show Alan Menken was developing for ABC? Is that not happening till next year...if it actually happens?

  6. Oh, and to your comment about not going with "Georgetown" before an election year? "The West Wing" debuted in the fall of 1999... just saying.

  7. Yeah, but you have to remember the political climate in the late 90s... the temperature was WAY lower than it was now. Dissent had yet to become un-American and you could, say, make fun of Republicans on TV without immediately being branded an agent of subversive secular radical Muslim agenda.

    Back then, the biggest thing people worried about politically was that the President of the United States was a sleaze who was putting his willy into interns not much older than his daughter. And funny thing, you could mock that particular individual without EVERY Democrat taking it as a shot on their particular values.

    Today we're so polarized that I worry either side is going to take issue with anything that makes "the other side" look like anything less than the anti-Christ. Now, I haven't read it so it could be as non-political as Spin City.

    (But yeah, I get that it's a Josh Schwartz show, so it probably has as much to do with politics as CHUCK has to do with the inner workings of the CIA.)

    You make a good point in bringing up The Deep End. I'd almost forgotten that show - and I agree with your mention that Georgetown sounds more like a CW show... but then, we have to consider someone new is in charge at ABC. My hunch is we'll see a couple "playing it safe" bets, while taking a chance on some more original stuff too. That's what worked for then in '04 when they launched Desperate Housewives, Lost, Boston Legal and then launched Grey's Anatomy at midseason once the other shows were established.

  8. I just stumbled across your blog and enjoyed your analysis. What buzz, if any, have you heard about the ABC pilot, Work It?

  9. I've not heard any buzz, but I think the concept for "Work It" sounds terrible and I'd be stunned if a good show resulted.

  10. I'm a fan of Amaury Nolasco and want a successful show for him, but I'd have to agree with you, based on what little I've heard about the pilot. Thanks!

  11. so you think there is a good chance that ABC picks up "Once Upon A time"?

    the competition is hard this year !

  12. If I had to bet on ONE show on ANY of the five networks for a pickup, it would be ONCE UPON A TIME. There are probably going to be a few good shows that get passed over but between the script, the cast, and the buzz - if this doesn't get ordered then either the execs don't know what they're doing, or something went VERY wrong during production.

  13. I hope you're right.I really want to see this show !!

  14. Having read ONCE UPON A TIME, I can say that it's a shoe-in for pickup. I can see what ABC is trying to do this season, and that is reinvent themselves. They have gone out of their way this time around to go outside the norm, something I am really grateful for.

    The script for PAN AM was also fantastic, and with period pieces starting to trend across the airwaves, I can easily see it getting a pickup as well.

    Unfortunately, ABC's slate is looking really strong as a whole. I can easily see most of their pilots on air, and would watch the vast majority of them as well. But I pray that CHARLIE'S ANGELS doesn't make the cut. We don't need another remake clogging up a season's worth of timeslots before its pulled mercifully off air because it can't even pull a 1.0 in the demo (with the exception of HAWAII FIVE-0, of course, which is actually good).

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  16. "Georgetown" actually does a good job being bi-partisan, at least in the pilot. It was handled really well. I say read it, you might be surprised. Also, the character's relationships are almost more important than it being about the politics. It does for Washington shows what Grey's did to Hospital shows.

  17. Believe me, it's on my list of pilots I'd hoped to have read this season. It just didn't happen to cross my path like some of the others. Being a Schwartz fan, I wanted to see how he handled the Beltway without going either too inside, to partisan or too preachy.

    Though as a life-long ER fan, and as someone who's loathed Grey's since it started (for reasons both fair and unfair), your last comment makes me die a little inside.

  18. Haha... no I totally hear you on the Grey's comment. And that was probably an "over-generalization". It has WAY more of a Schwartz sensibility than Rhimes one... and there's NO OBNOXIOUS VOICE OVER THANK GOD!!!

    Like you mentioned, the characters are young people/interns and trying to make it in the Washington system. So the only real connection to Grey's is the word "Interns". And to the people thinking it should be compared to The Deep End... it's not even remotely THAT TERRIBLE.

    As you can see, I'm really rooting for this show. And believe me, my standards for TV are incredibly high. "Mad Men", "Breaking Bad", "Friday Night Lights", and "The Good Wife" are my favorite shows of the year. I wouldn't rally behind a show without those standards.