Yes, this is it: the top five pilots which I believe have the most potential in the coming year. This is not a potential for success in ratings, or ad dollars, or anything like this: no, this is very much more about how well I think these shows can advance themselves creatively. It’s a list full of wishful thinking, if you will. While these shows might not light up the Nielsen ratings come next season, I think that part of me will feel better that they exist…and will cross my fingers that they succeed. They’re the next Veronica Mars, if you will, and I can only hope that networks have as much patience for these shows as they did for that one. Which pilots make the cut? There’s only one way to find out.
The Five Most Promising Pilots of the 2007/2008 Upfront Presentations
5. Back to You [FOX]
I feel like I need to include a single sitcom on this list, I really do. And, it is with some apprehension that I include this single-camera/multi-camera hybrid on the list. From the clips that FOX has shown it is certainly looking just like every other sitcom you’ve ever imagined. And yet, I’m placing it here because it has an enormous amount of pedigree behind it, and if anything is going to overcome sitcom constructs it’s likely to be Back To You.
I can’t argue against Kelsey Grammer and Patricia Heaton. They’re sitcom legends, each with years of experience, and each with a sense of comic timing that could develop well over time. Kelsey Grammer gets to play a complete asshole, something which is kind of n nice to see from him, while Heaton gets to play someone who is unstable at this particular point in her life. The clips from the pilot are meant to be overly confrontational, over-the-top, because it needs to establish things quickly. I believe that over time these two actors will easily find the subtlety which could raise the show to another level.
Combine this with a great supporting player in Fred Willard. Fred Willard is kind of fantastic. I don’t really need to even say why, he just is. The show, therefore, is coming to the table with a strong backing of established comic actors, a premise which I don’t immediately hate, and a sense that this is really going to be given a chance by FOX. I don’t get that feeling about any of the other sitcoms: most of them really feel like their networks are just grasping at straws. With Back To You, I think that FOX has found enough “sure things” to overcome its other issues to be the sitcom with the most potential in the upcoming season.
4. Reaper [The CW]
I stumbled upon FOX’s low-profile comedy, The Loop, at some point in the middle of last year. I was up late, stumbled onto my snowy Global antenna feed, and found a comedy that was actually quite charming. Much of this had to do with its star, Bret Harrison, who certainly held things together in a rather good fashion. That show is arriving for its short second season in early June, but more importantly is that Harrison is moving onto a new project: that project is The CW’s Reaper.
I still don’t really entirely get the premise of the show. I think it’s about someone who becomes kind of a wrangler for Satan, someone who collects lost souls from hell which are wreaking havoc on citizens and breaking their bond with the devil. That’s what the few clips on The CW’s website tell me about it. They also tell me that this show is ostensibly a comedy, which I think is a smart move for the network. Supernatural covers similar territory, but Reaper appears to be throwing all attempts at being serious out the window.
This is really a show which is all about promise, as opposed to elements really jumping out at you. I think Harrison is an engaging young lead, and I think that Kevin Smith agreeing to direct the pilot shows that it must, at the very least, have some level of potential. It’s certainly not going to be high concept, but I think it’s just the type of show I could enjoy: a good “everyman has to learn to fight demons” comedy. However, it has the rather unfortunate task of facing off against House…so I don’t think the show will be able to last for too long, especially not with a reality lead-in. Only a timeslot move can save the show…but it looks good.
Sneak Preview – Reaper
3. The Bionic Woman [NBC]
I had to make a decision here. FOX’s Sarah Connor Chronicles and NBC’s The Bionic Woman are treading on very similar territory, and I think both have mild amount of potential as TV dramas…but I couldn’t put both of them on the list. However, for the purpose of decision-making, it is NBC’s new vision of the 70s series that gets my seal of approval at this stage, for a variety of reasons.
Perhaps most importantly is that I think David Eick, executive producer on Battlestar Galactica, knows what he’s doing. He’s been involved with Battlestar, which is both a fantastic series and a positive reimagining of the original series, and he comes to this with the right mindset. It’s about taking an old idea and making it new while retaining its strongest features. Combine this with recent word that the showrunner from Karen Sisco and Kidnapped (Two cancelled before their time dramas) is stepping in, and I have faith in the showrunners.
But, more than that, I think it looks pretty damn cool. Michelle Ryan seems like a decent fit for the title role, Battlestar’s Katie Sackhoff is perfect for the evil arch-nemesis part, and on the whole it seems like a dark and gritty handling of what was once a much cornier franchise (Sounds a lot like Battlestar, no?). I think that NBC has scheduled it poorly, facing it off against ABC’s Private Practice, but I can only hope that after seeing the show in detail they can provide it the timeslot it deserves: the Monday post-Heroes time slot. Until that point, I remain apprehensive of its future…but kind of excited to see what this show can pull off.
Sneak Preview – The Bionic Woman
2. Chuck [NBC]
Josh Schwartz has two pilots making it to series this year: the soapy Gossip Girl on The CW and Chuck, a dramedy making its way to NBC. I’ve watched clips of both of them, and I’ll admit right now that Gossip Girl looks like a guilty pleasure show right up there with The O.C. And yet, I can’t say it has a whole lot of creative promise, especially when compared to Schwartz’s other show. Chuck may not be the most high concept drama making it to the airwaves, but it remains something I believe holds a lot of promise.
That promise lies in Schwartz himself, as he has a knack for creating characters who do well in fish-out-of-water scenarios. The O.C. was strongest in Seth and Ryan, not in Marissa; Gossip Girl seems to pick form the latter, while Chuck seems rooted in the former, especially Seth Cohen. The lead character in Chuck is a geeky guy who can’t get a girl, but whose life changes when he becomes the holder of the CIA’s greatest secrets. His life changes, and we get to see the growing pains along the way.
I think that this has a lot of potential mainly because I have faith in Schwartz’s writing ability, especially away from the soapy locales of southern California. The clips I’ve seen form the pilot are your usual pilot stuff: setup, car chases, intra-agency conflict, the usual stuff seen in one of these shows. I can’t help but get vibes of a light-hearted version of Alias from the show, which I think is a fairly large compliment to any show. I don’t know how long it can last facing off against House, so I’m unlikely to get much closure, but I think I’ll like the ride while it lasts.
Sneak Preview – Chuck
1. Pushing Daisies [ABC]
For me to get behind a procedural drama, it needs to do something that makes it stand out. It needs to wow me with a lead character who couldn’t exist on any other show (House), or provide enough dramatic elements to mask its procedural setup in each episode (Grey’s Anatomy). However, Pushing Daisies does something that neither of those shows does: it provides a gimmick which actually sounds like it could be just quirky enough to work.
While Journeyman has a person time traveling to save lives, and New Amsterdam has a 400-year old man who uses his years of knowledge to solve crimes, the lead character of Pushing Daisies is much more of an everyman: he’s a pie baker who can bring people back to life with his tough, briefly, so he can ask them who killed them. Pushing Daisies takes a lot of elements popular this season and combines them into a light-hearted, comic atmosphere. It had your star-crossed lovers (A key to both Moonlight (Oh right, one of the crime fighters is a vampire) and New Amsterdam…and Journeyman), but yet Ned’s not just emo; there’s actual substance here, something tangible.
I’m excited about all of this jumbled mess of procedural elements because the show has a lot of pedigree behind it. Bryan Fuller created Wonderfalls and Dead Like Me, two quirky shows which got rave reviews, and he wrote the best episode of Heroes, well, ever: “Company Man”. The man does great work, and the brief clip available of the show reflects this. It is a simple scene, explains the premise well, and gives us an idea of what to look forward to. It’s not often I get excited about a procedural drama, but this one seems just crazy enough that it might work.
Sneak Preview – Pushing Daisies