A couple of weeks ago, I used this space to talk about the shows that may or may not be returning to the various broadcast networks next fall. This time, I'll deal with some of the pilots that could be finding their way to your TV in a few short months.
There are more than 80 programs in contention across the networks, each jockeying for consideration from their possible homes. It's hard to say right now what looks good and what doesn't, mainly because only a handful of television executives have viewed any of the programs in full. There will be market research and focus groups, financial negotiations between studios and broadcasters, and more than a few late nights where schedules will be created, ripped apart and re-built.
The upfront sessions, where the advertising community and the critics will have their first chance to see what the networks have settled on, are mere weeks away; even though I only have "loglines" (a brief description of the show's plot points) to go by, here are the pilots I'd have the most interest in seeing if I were in the audience at those presentations.
ABC: 23 total pilots under consideration (11 comedy, 12 drama)
Among ABC's 23 pilots, there are a few that are already receiving heavy positive buzz, such as new sitcoms starring Reba McEntire (in the pithily-titled "Malibu Country") and Sarah Chalke (in the sort of unwieldy "How to Live with Your Parents for the Rest of Your Life"). Those sound okay to me, but of all the titles, the comedies "Red Van Man" and "The Smart One," plus the drama "Last Resort" are the most intriguing to me.
"Red Van Man" -- based on a British sitcom called "White Van Man" -- is about a man who is forced to take over the family repair business from his father. While the description doesn't exactly spark the imagination, the cast does. Kyle Bornheimer, a very talented comedic actor who has been on the cusp of TV stardom for the last few years, is in the lead role, and the father is going to be played by the marvelous character actor J.K. Simmons, who manages to elevate just almost everything he's in. For me, even the thought of watching these two actors playing dueling generations sounds like a lot of fun.
"The Smart One" is the story of a woman (Portia de Rossi) who takes a job working for the mayor of a major American city (Malin Akerman), one who happens to be a former beauty queen and weather girl -- and the woman's younger sister.
Here's another case of a castmember piquing my interest. De Rossi is one of my favorite comedic actresses, and particularly deft with stuff that's off-beat. (She was integral in two of my favorite sitcoms of recent years, playing the hard-shelled boss on "Better Off Ted" and the self-obsessed sister on "Arrested Development.") Whenever I see that she's part of a sitcom cast, I want to see the show. Knowing that she's in the lead role is even more promising.
"Last Resort," an action-thriller from Shawn Ryan, creator of "The Shield" and co-creator of "The Unit," doesn't sound like a prototypical ABC show, which might make it even more intriguing to me. This program is set in the near-future and revolves around the crew of a U.S. submarine -- led by a captain played by Emmy-winner Andre Braugher -- which ignores an order to fire their nuclear missiles. The sub goes on the run from their former friends, escaping to an outpost where the crew declares that they are now the world's smallest nuclear nation. Ryan is a proven quantity as a writer and producer; he knows how to build tough, suspenseful situations and populate them with interesting, challenging characters. Of all the hour-long drama pilots on the networks, this is the one that I'm following most closely.
CBS: 15 total pilots under consideration (8 comedy, 7 drama)
CBS is in their usual enviable position of not needing to fill too many open spaces on their schedule. There is talk, however, that they are going to shake up their Thursday night line-up by programming a two-hour comedy block; this means they could be in the mood to pick up a few more half-hours. And there will always be a need for CBS to find a solid procedural drama or two.
There are a couple of pilots on the list that sound like they could fit right in. "Friend Me," about sitcom about a pair of small town guys transplanted in L.A., for example, comes from two of the executive producers of "Two and a Half Men," while the hour-long modern take on Sherlock Holmes (titled "Elementary") is certain to be as stylized as most of CBS' current crime dramas.
The shows I'd like to see, however, might not necessarily square with the mold. The first is a sitcom co-executive produced by Emmy winner and Oscar nominee Melissa McCarthy (starring her real-life husband), the other is a star-powered 1960s-set drama about a rodeo cowboy turned sheriff.
The as-yet-untitled comedy stars Ben Falcone, who also co-created the show. (He had his breakthrough on movie screens last summer in the hit movie "Bridesmaids," portraying the air marshal that McCarthy's character aggressively pursued.) In the new program, he plays a man approaching middle-age who loses everything in the collapse of the real estate market, and must move back in with his parents (played by Judd Hirsch and Andrea Martin). A cursory glance over Falcone's credits indicate that he's a talented up-and-comer, with a number of TV shows and films (as well as writing and music composition) on his resumé over the last decade. I'm interested in seeing how he makes the transition from guest star to lead.
The period drama (also untitled) stars Dennis Quaid in the translated-for-TV true story of a rodeo star named Ralph Lamb who became the sheriff of another type of Wild West town -- Las Vegas. Quaid is joined by Michael Chiklis (an Emmy winner for "The Shield"), Carrie-Anne Moss ("The Matrix" films) and Jason O'Mara, who was cast in the pilot just before the official cancellation of his previous series, "Terra Nova." Written by Nicholas Pileggi and Greg Walker -- two experienced hands at lawmen-versus-mobsters movies and TV shows -- the show's already being referred to as a likely addition to the CBS schedule. The biggest stumbling block could come from the setting; last year's "Pan Am" was an expensive 60s flashback that didn't stay airborne for ABC (and the less said about NBC's truly awful "Playboy Club," the better). However, that show struggled through bugaboos that gum up the plot no matter the timeframe -- muddy storylines, flat characters, etc. I'm interested in seeing if this telling of a likely fascinating story can capture not only the flash and glitz of Vegas in its heyday, but also the grit and grime of the city's underbelly.
Next time: A preview of selected NBC, FOX and CW pilots -- and what I'm looking for from them.