Tuesday, April 16, 2013

It's not easy picking a new fall TV lineup - Part II

Yesterday I discussed my favorite pilots of last season and attempted to perform a post-mortum on how many of them turned out.  Especially after watching 30 pilots, you realize how hard it is to make a great pilot.  The other thing you notice is that the vast majority of ordered pilots end up being inoffensive, neither truly terrible nor amazing.  Even if something doesn't set  you on fire, you can sometimes see the few virtues in them that would have lead an executive to roll the dice on the chances that that wet clay could be molded into a masterpiece.

But as with everything, there will be the pilots that can only leave you scratching your head, wondering what on Earth earned this thing a 13-episode order.  So without further adiou, my least favorite pilots of last season:

Beauty & The Beast 
This was pretty much the nadir of my pilot-viewing last year.  Kristin Kreuk seems like a really nice girl, but it's hard to think of a more severe case of miscasting than her role as an NYPD Detective.  Even more ridiculous was the fact that the titular "beast" probably isn't even the least attractive guy on the CW.  Critics found much to mock, teasing that it must be his tiny cosmetic scar that made him "ugly."  The creators attempt to address that criticism head on at the TCAs didn't pass the smell test.

On top of all of that was the fact that when the "Beast" gets angry, he hulks out and becomes violent.  I know I'm reading far too much into this, but in a world where teenage girls are lining up to get beaten up by Chris Brown, I found it worrysome that the subtext could be read as "Sure he gets really violent, but we love each other so it's okay!"

A season later - Shows what I know.  The show not only got picked up for a back-nine, but it's got a strong chance at a second season.  The ratings - aided likely in large part by its lead-in The Vampire Diaries - have been decent for the CW.  And just to drive a nail into the validity of my opinions, I've heard from people in a position to know that Kreuk's fans are more rabid for B&TB than they were for Smallville!  What can I say? I'm humbled.

Emily Owens, M.D.
I quite simply cannot evaluate this pilot any better than the Hollywood Reporter did, which said of the eponymous character, "Give this doctor 500 cc's of Shut Up. Please."  Go read their review. I agree with every word of it. I don't really want to get started on this one, except to note an oddity in the premise.  The basic conceit of the show is that for Emily, being a medical resident is just like being in high school.  Presumably this is to make the young viewers identify with the characters... except that on their shows with actual high schoolers, barely any time is spent in class and half the cast usually has some kind of instant-career that's way too mature for them.

A season later - Ratings sagged.  The CW ran all 13 eps, but not before canceling it.

The Neighbors
This was the critic's favorite whipping boy last season.  It wasn't the worst pilot of the year, but it was rather silly and seemed to go for the obvious jokes too often.  The pilot suggested week-after-week of stories where the aliens do something the humans find weird and the aliens explain it's a mundane part of their culture.  Honestly, it struck me after viewing this pilot that the broader tone might have been better suited to a three-camera sitcom rather than a single-cam.  (Unfortunately, the visual effects involved makes that suggestion easier said than done.)

A season later - It held on all season and it's not inconceivable that it'll get a second year.  Word is that it's improved creatively too.  I don't know if there's any critic who would have predicted that, so we're all eating crow.

I hate to say this, because there are a lot of people connected to this whose work I've enjoyed in the past, but this just didn't work on any level. Will & Grace's David Cohan and Max Mutchnick attempted another show about gay-and-straight best friends, and ended up with an assembly-line sitcom that felt like a parody of something that might have been made by rivals looking to ride the W&G wave in the late 90s. It just wasn't fun to sit through, and it didn't provide any real hook that might have compelled me to tune in on subsequent weeks. Given that there was such competition for CBS's few open slots, one wonders what the pilots they passed on looked like. Or maybe the network had just that much faith that famed director James Burrows would be able to help turn it around.

One season later: It was canceled after six episodes.

Next Caller
This is a bit of a cheat, as the pilot never made it to air and in fact had its six-episode order cut to four before production was suspended.  What was so wrong with it?  Basically it was another case where the show wasn't offering anything new.  It centered on Dane Cook as a chauvinistic radio personality whose new producer is (*gasp*) a woman who isn't gonna take his shit!  Is there sexual tension between them?  Of course there is!

I think the lesson to take from this is that the pilot didn't set up a big enough canvas to generate original stories.  Several networks ordered shows that covered familiar ground and that makes some amount of sense.  Even when an exec wants to take risks, they need to hedge their bets with safer material at the same time.  Next Caller is what happens when they play it too safe and fail to notice there's nothing to work with but a tired will-they-or-won't-they among polar opposites.

Notice anything?  In considering my most extreme reactions to what I watched, in terms of how the TV industry measures success, I was wrong at least as much as I was right.  Shows that looked certain to go the distance ended up dying on the vine, while straight-up losers endured through this season and beyond.

Now pretend that your job for the last several years required you to watch 20 pilots in the span of a few weeks and gamble the health of your network for the next year on your assessment of those pilots.  Not so easy, is it?

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