May 10 2011 9:20am

The Next Big (Fall TV) Thing?: Hot Pilots on the Horizon

Fall TVNext week, network TV executives will converge on New York City to announce their new fall TV schedules. More than 80 new pilots are currently being screened and selected to join returning favorite shows, and here’s a glimpse at a few of them we’re hoping to see on the boob tube come September:

Funny Girls

The days when Two and a Half Men = WINNING? OVER!

This fall, comedies are all about the ladies! One of the top buzz getters is Don’t Trust the Bitch in Apartment 23 (ABC) about a naïve new Manhattanite whose selfish city roomie makes Mean Girls's Queen Bee Regina George’s torture of poor Lindsey Lohan (back when she was that cute little redhead!) look positively saintly. Best part: a comeback for James Van Der Beek—that’s right, Dawson Leery and star of a hundred hilarious vandermemes—plays himself as a snarky BFF. Know who else is new to the Big Apple? Zooey Deschanel. FOX lured the bonafide film star (and sister of their beloved Bones star), to try the small screen with The New Girl, which features her shacking up with three sloppy-slacker guys.

Chelsea HandlerFan favorites Christina Applegate and Jenna Elfman both come back to TV with a lap on the mommytrack, in Alpha Mom (NBC) and Bad Mother (ABC) respectively. Two female comics could get their own shows at NBC, with That '70s Show vet Laura Prepon playing talk show host Chelsea Handler in Are You There Vodka? It’s Me, Chelsea (in an interesting twist, Chelsea will play her own best friend), and Whitney Cummings plays herself in a project that’s simply going to be called Whitney. (For those worried, the men aren't underrepresented—veterans Tim Allen and Don Johnson star in high profile pilots for ABC and NBC respectively.)

Suds and Sizzle

It’s been a while since a great sudsy drama made a splash in primetime. The aging Desperate Housewives might have to move over and make room for some Good Christian Bitches (ABC). The adorable Kristin Chenoweth and Annie Potts are two of those title characters who make life a bit difficult for a widowed mom who moves back home for a heaping serving of humble pie. It’s no surprise that this one is getting early buzz for being a lock, with executive producer Darren Star (Beverly Hills 90210, Melrose Place) behind the scenes.

Ioan Gruffudd in Fantastic FourCBS has the drama-packed Ringer on its dance card, starring the former Buffy, Sarah Michelle Gellar, as a troubled twin who steps into her wealthy twin sister’s shoes when she goes missing…only to find out that Sis had even bigger problems than the ones she’s been running from. The sharp script features twist after twist and the cast includes such gorgeous eye candy as Ioan Gruffudd (Fantastic Four), Kristoffer Polaha (Life Unexpected) and Nestor Carbonell (Lost). At Fox, the Count of Monte Cristo-inspired Revenge stars Emily Van Camp as a young woman who heads for the ritzy Hamptons with a plan—she’s seeking vengeance against those whom she holds responsible for the destruction of her family. Finally, Georgetown (ABC) features a hot young cadre of political staffers sharing a townhouse in D.C’s Dupont Circle. Expect plenty of debriefing in this one.

Doing the Time Warp

A number of pilots are going back in time this fall. In an effort to capture some of that Mad Men appeal, Pan Am (ABC), set in the 1960s when air travel still had a bit of mystique and glamour, features film fave Christina Ricci as a friendly stewardess. Also sixties-set is the provocative Playboy (NBC), following the goings-on at the infamous bunny club in Chicago in 1963. This one stirred up a bit of controversy over the potential for sex and nudity, but we’re betting it’s all a tease. This is network TV, after all. Going back a bit further in time, Reconstruction (NBC) tackles the post-Civil War West with the story of a soldier who’s unexpectedly hailed as a savior when he settles into a new town. This True Grit-flavored pilot features two vets of last season’s short-lived med drama Off the Map, the delicious Martin Henderson and stunning Rachel Lefevre.

Practically Magic

Adrienne Palicki in Wonder WomanSuperheroes, ghosts, witches, and all sorts of fantastical characters can be found in this fall’s pilot contenders. The highest profile of these is likely NBC’s Wonder Woman, which found itself facing a lot of bad buzz for writer David E. Kelley’s Ally McBeal-ization of the iconic Amazon Queen (she eats ice cream and cries about her love life?!?) and the leaked costume designs, which made even the stunning Adrienne Palicki look not so wondrous. Supposedly rewrites (and a new costume) have helped, but will it be enough to secure a slot in a competitive fall season? Another series taking on some iconic characters is the quirky and original Once Upon a Time (ABC), which spins a tale about Storybrooke, a small town in Maine where fables just might be fact. Look for House charmer Jennifer Morrison to lead an ensemble featuring the always delightful Ginnifer Goodwin as Snow White and talented Robert Carlyle as Rumplestiltskin. Other worldly happenings await in FOX’s Locke & Key, based on a popular comic series by writer Joe Hill, which sees a family who moves into a new house that features doors that lead to different dimensions. Fantastically fresh and original, but rumor has it the network’s worried viewer appeal may be cult-ish/limited like their current speculative drama Fringe. Over at the CW, whose limited programming schedule translates to just a couple open slots, they’re keen on The Secret Circle, a new series about teen witches (the supernatural kind!) based on the popular YA books by Vampire Diaries author L.J. Smith and helmed by TVD’s showrunner Kevin Williamson. With that pedigree, it’s practically a sure thing.

Triple Threats

FOX’s GleeThanks to the success of FOX’s blockbuster hit Glee, several artsy pilots are in contention to sing and dance their way into audience’s hearts this season. One of NBC’s sure-bet pickups (New network prez Bob Greenblatt is a huge champion) is Smash, an insider look at the back-biting, ball-breaking world of Broadway. With Debra Messing, Anjelica Huston, American Idol’s Katherine McPhee, and a bevy of real White Way vets cast, this is a no-holds-barred look at what it takes to mount a major musical (about Marilyn Monroe, no less!). But will those who tune in to Glee’s sunny messages embrace the darkly cynical tone of this Smash and make it a hit? Could open to mixed reviews. At ABC, they’re looking to parlay the power of Dancing with the Stars into Grace, an ensemble drama featuring Eric Roberts as a famous ballet dancer-turned-teacher and his three daughters (all by different women of different races). Debbie Allen’s signed on to deliver some homegrown truths (as she does—the script introduces her with a purely Allen-esque, “Oh, child, no” kernel of wisdom). With choreography by DWTS judge Carrie Ann Inaba, early reports say the dance sequences shine, although the rest isn’t quite on pointe. Finally, CBS’s Hallelujah, by Desperate Housewives creator Mark Cherry and featuring Lost’s Terry O’Quinn as (surprise!) an enigmatic, possibly sinister man embroiled in a town’s fight between good and evil, is described as a drama with musical elements (i.e. lots of gospel songs.) We don’t mind as long as Jesse L. Martin gets to sing some of them.

Prescriptive Measures

Scott Porter in Friday Night LightsA staple of the TV landscape, medical dramas never seem to go out of style. This season, the CW finally tries its hand at one, with The OC producer Josh Schwartz’s Hart of Dixie starring Rachel Bilson as a fetching young fish-out-of-water doc who travels from NYC to an eccentric southern town to practice and the dashing Scott Porter (fresh off his buzzy turn on The Good Wife) as her love interest. Over at CBS, the Untitled Susannah Grant drama (Grant was the writer of Erin Brockovich) features Patrick Wilson as a doctor who gets a lesson in bedside manner from his ex-wife—his deceased ex-wife mind you. Jennifer Ehle (Pride & Prejudice) and Julie Benz (No Ordinary Family) round out the cast. FOX, which is in danger of losing their medical hit House, might try to fill the potential gap with Weekends at Bellevue, a quirky look at life inside the infamous mental institution through the eyes of a young doctor played by Six Feet Under’s Lauren Ambrose. Finally, Christine Lahti plays The Doctor for CBS as a mom who reconnects with her adult children when she joins the family medical practice. Should the network pass on this, it would be veteran director David Nutter’s first strikeout in 16 pilot seasons! With that kind of winning track record? Charlie Sheen’s got nothing on this guy.

For more pilot perspectives on all the procedurals, detective dramas, spy sagas, and heist shows bringing suspense to the fall lineups, check in at CriminalElement.com this afternoon.


Tara Gelsomino is a reader, writer, pop culture junkie, and internet addict. You can tweet her at @taragel.

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Heather Waters
1. HeatherWaters
I want to watch ALL THE THINGS! So sad that many of these will never air on TV.

I was excited about the idea of Wonder Woman, but the reality of it just sounds awful. Poor Tyra.

Unsurprisingly, I think I'm most hoping will make it are the ones with some sort of fantasy/sci-fi angle, like Once Upon a Time, Secret Circle, and Locke & Key. So of course they probably a) won't make it, or b) will get canceled early!

Can't wait to see what you wrote up for Criminal Element! I'm still depressed that our BSG reunion might not happen. I would totally have watched just to see Jamie, James, and Tricia on screen together again.
Megan Frampton
2. MFrampton
I'll watch Pan Am and Playboy just for the clothes (love me some loud clothing!). And I like Jennifer Morrison formerly of House, so I'm mildly intrigued. Other than those, though, nothing makes me sit up and say 'wow!' But that's good, 'cause my TV time is already well spoken-for.
Tara Gelsomino
3. Taragel
@redline_ I know! I usually try to watch at least the pilot of any that make it to air and mildly intrigue me. Though if it doesn't hook me right away I give up quick. I think Secret Circle is a definite, so that's one! Locke & Key's pretty unlikely at this point but am hoping OUAT makes it because I love me some Ginnifer Goodwin. There were so many procedurals/mysteries! I kept taking shows out of this article and putting in that one (like Poe and Person of Interest). I wanted to see Stockard and Jamie every week so much! And I was intrigued to see how fandom would handle favorite actors/characters playing different roles and relationships off each other. Ah well...

@MFrampton It's interesting because I'd say this is one of the more creative slate of pilot offerings in years, yet networks seem reluctant to pick up the wilder premises fearing low ratings. Several cable pilots are intriguing me, even though I didn't cover them here. FX's superhero show Powers had a fantastic script and could star Coach Taylor! Ryan Murphy's American Horror Story was really horrific and dark and I have no idea how they're going to make it palatable to audiences and it will be shocking to see Tami Taylor starring in it! Plus Sorkin's got a very Sorkiny new show about broadcast news for HBO, and A&E's Longmire based on a series of western mysteries has a great cast including my darling Katee Sackhoff. If only I could get paid to watch TV all day. Lol.
4. poppypickle
Great round-up of all of the new pilots! This is my favorite time of year for television -- we get to imagine (for a moment) that we will get to see tons of interesting and creative new programs before 90% of them get cancelled. Yay!!!

"NBC’s Wonder Woman, which found itself facing a lot of bad buzz for writer David E. Kelley’s Ally McBeal-ization of the iconic Amazon Queen (she eats ice cream and cries about her love life?!?)"

Hilarious. I would rather listen to your comments about Wonder Woman than watch it...;-)

The Hollywood Reporter's latest issue was rumbling that Zooey Deschanel might not be as funny in her pilot as TPTB wish she was...we shall see.

Think Good Christian Bitches will get to keep its awesome title? I have doubts.

I'm excited for Alpha Mom because I think the Christina Applegate/Will Arnett pairing will work out INFINITELY better than the Keri Russell debaucle of anti-chemistry.

I am also SUPER intrigued by Smash...
Tara Gelsomino
5. Taragel
@poppypickle Thanks! Finally I get to use my TV obsession for something productive. ;) Lol. I really want to see Wonder Woman just to see what kind of trainwreck it is! I do love the cast I admit. Tyra! And Tracie Thoms! And I forget who they cast as the love interest but I think he was pretty cute, whoever it was...

Oh I heard they're really keen on The New Girl and it might even get an early pickup, along with another comedy, Family Album. Am surprised it's so quiet though yesterday and today so far.

They'll definitely rename Good Christian Bitches. (Bitch in Apt. 23 too...I think that might just end up the lame "Apt. 23") I am not a Will Arnett fan...Something Wilde or whatever it was called was AWFUL. But I did like Christina in Samantha Who? Comedies in general aren't usually a hit for me though.

Smash is interesting. I really wonder if they think they're going to grab a chunk of the Glee audience with it because it's very different in tone. It seemed VERY insider-y to me (playwright Teresa Rebeck wrote it) and the people they cast didn't really seem to fit the parts as scripted that well. I don't know. I think we'll see in the fall though!
6. poppypickle

The word on The New Girl could just be THR being snarky. They've been known to do such things.

Yeah, both the Bitch-fests will get renames, which is a bummer. Or maybe they will get a Biatch? Hmmmm...

See, I love Will Arnett, but I think he's meant for very specific vehicles. I also think he's better as a supporting character because his style of comedy is super strong and needs to be meted out. Something Wilde was TRAGIC, but I also loved Applegate on Samantha Who (which I still mourn). I yearn for another good comedy...

Teresa Rebeck wrote Smash? Hmmmm...I used to do her monologues all the time for auditions LOL. Smash just keeps looking more and more interesting...
Tara Gelsomino
7. Taragel
@poppypickle Do you watch Raising Hope? That one's pretty damn good. Martha Plimpton is the best. Of this new crop, people seem keen on Apt 23, I thought it had a few good lines (and Van der Beek of course--in the script he was Lance Bass). I want to read Rebeck's novel! It sounds v. intriguing.
Heather Waters
8. hnwaters
@taragel -- I am excited about Van der Beek's return to TV. I was surprised at how much I enjoyed him in Mercy (which I miss!).

@poppypickle -- See, I love Will Arnett, but I think he's meant for very specific vehicles. I also think he's better as a supporting character because his style of comedy is super strong and needs to be meted out.

Word. His was my favorite character in the ridiculously awesome Arrested Development (which I also miss!).
Liz Maverick
9. Liz Maverick
I can't get past the Wonder Woman costume fail. There's just no way I'm spending free time supporting that crap.
Tara Gelsomino
10. Taragel
@hnwaters He was surprisingly delightful as a total ass in Mercy! I enjoyed that show too!
Tara Gelsomino
11. Taragel
@lizmaverick I read that they've ixnayed that first costume design altogether and at some point in pilot she does wear the star-spangled shorts. Aint It Cool News had a report on this one earlier today that said it was more Ally McBeal meets Boston Legal than anything else, which is sad but not too surprising. Such a shame because the cast is pretty great.
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