One of the most exciting times of the television year is finding out which new programs the major networks will be shoving down our gullets in the fall. Once a new year rolls around, networks place orders for many pilots—the first episode of a potential TV series—based on an idea and lots of hope. Each pilot is a chance for a network to recreate its identity with a new hit or cement its place as laughing stock with a remake of The Bionic Woman (yes, I'm reusing jokes from 2007).
Once again, we've sorted through the potential shows currently in consideration for the 2012-2013 TV season on the major networks (note: we did not include cable this year) and selected 20 we'd like to see get made for whatever reason: because they look good, because they're bound to be an entertaining train wreck, or because they've lined up a great cast. And to help give you an idea of what some of these potential shows might look like, I spent hours slaving away in Photoshop to create some "artist's renderings" for you.
Genre: Single-camera fur-flying comedy
Starring: Justin Kirk (Weeds), Tyler Labine (Reaper), Bobby Lee (MADtv)
What it's about in one sentence: This office comedy centers on a grumpy veterinarian who likes the animals he treats but hates their owners.
Why we want to see it: This is probably the network comedy I'm looking forward to most. It's supposedly House with animals! That's funny already. But the idea of Kirk (a personal favorite of mine), Labine (another personal favorite of mine), and Lee on screen with a bunch of yapping and butt-sniffing Corgis sounds even better. Early word is that NBC likes it, and I do too.
Why it might not make it: This show has "quirky" written all over it. And I mean weird quirky, not Zooey quirky. It could be better suited for cable, where it could survive on a niche audience.
Genre: Political thriller with a chance of mushroom clouds
Starring: Andre Braugher (Men of a Certain Age), Scott Speedman (Felicity), Autumn Reeser (No Ordinary Family), Dichen Lachman (Dollhouse, Being Human)
What it's about in one sentence: The crew of a U.S. nuclear submarine refuses orders to blow someone to smithereens and retreats to a NATO outpost, where it declares itself the smallest nuclear-equipped independent nation.
Why we want to see it: This show was created by Shawn Ryan (The Shield, Terriers, The Chicago Code), and he knows how to make TV so it won't be fluffy or watered-down. The unique premise deftly mixes a political drama with a thriller, but adds the idea of building a society for major "us against them" tension. Last Resort has the potential to be Lord of the Flies in the nuclear age. And how great is the Braugher casting? Plus, there's always the possibility that Lachman and Reeser might end up wrestling in bikinis, and not just in my dreams this time.
Why it might not make it: This could very well be too ambitious (and expensive) for network television, and its big-idea concept and message (a military disobeying orders) can turn off large segments of the population. But that would just be silly. Give this one a chance, ABC.
Genre: Goofy single-camera comedy of the third kind
Starring: Lenny Venito, Jami Gertz (Square Pegs), Simon Templeman, Toks Olagundoye, Tim Jo, and a bunch of other people you've never heard of
What it's about in one sentence: A family moves into a gated New Jersey community, only to find out that it's populated by aliens disguising themselves as humans.
Why we want to see it: There can never be too many shows about aliens pretending to be humans.
Why it might not make it: It's never a good sign for a pilot when IMDB barely knows who the cast is. Without a single big name on its roster, this is a long shot.
Genre: Single-camera double-sister comedy
Starring: Portia de Rossi (Arrested Development), Malin Akerman (Childrens Hospital), David Arquette (phone commercials)
What it's about in one sentence: A smart woman (de Rossi) goes to work for her dumber, hotter sister (Akerman), who's a pageant-queen-turned-mayor-of-a-big-city.
Why we want to see it: Have you seen the actresses who are playing the two sisters? That's some dream casting there. And the premise could be fertile ground for awkward political comedy on a bigger scope than quaint Parks and Recreation.
Why it might not make it: The characters will have to go beyond the "I'm smart you're stupid" routine. And David Arquette. But other than that, this seems like a good bet to make it to series.
Genre: Anti-techno thriller
Starring: Billy Burke (Twilight), David Lyons (The Cape), Giancarlo Esposito (Breaking Bad), Tracy Spiridakos (Being Human), Graham Rogers (those insurance commercials: "Can I get a hot tub!"), Andrea Roth (Rescue Me)
What it's about in one sentence: A family tries to reunite in a world where all technology and forms of energy cease to exist.
Why we want to see it: Supernatural fans have been dying to find out what creator Eric Kripke's next project will be, and this is it. And to make things even more geek friendly, J.J. Abrams has slapped his name on it as well. Methinks these two can make awesome work together. Post-apocalyptic and likely a cautionary tale about how we play too much Angry Birds, Revolution sounds like a series that's got a real chance to be great. But if you really need a reason, how about seeing more Giancarlo Esposito on your TV every week?
Why it might not make it: Aside from facing the typical uphill battle of being a serialized drama, this sounds like Jericho all over again.
Genre: Jailbait drama
Starring: Jaime Pressly (My Name is Earl), Amy Smart (Road Trip), Jurnee Smollett (Friday Night Lights), Karolina Wydra (House)
What it's about in one sentence: All you need to know is that this is a drama set in a women's prison.
Why we want to see it: The hotness of the four ladies in the cast is enough for a pilot greenlight. The fact that it's about a women's prison makes it a must go-to-series. And the chance that this is campier than a Winnebago has us excited for five seasons and a movie.
Why it might not make it: Well, it's a series about a women's prison! How can it be anything more than guilty pleasure garbage? This is The Playboy Club Part II and could quickly earn a sentence of four episodes with no chance of parole.
Genre: Una comedia de una camera
Starring: Ryan Hansen (Party Down), Mercedes Ruehl (Big), Ana Nogueira, Victor Rauk (How to Make it in America)
What it's about in one sentence: A slacker-ish guy gets kicked out of his parents' house and ends up moving in with his Latina nanny.
Why we want to see it: This pilot comes from Moses Port and David Guarascio, the dudes behind the fantastic short-lived CW comedy Aliens in America, which I will keep telling you to watch until you finally do because it's really amazing. Download it, steal it from series star Dan Byrd, I don't care. Watch it. Knowing its creators, El Jefe will be offbeat with a lot of heart, a perfect vehicle for star Hansen, who we've missed since Party Down quit partyin'. El Jefe has the potential to fit nicely with fellow oddballs New Girl and Raising Hope. In fact, I'm calling it right now as part of a new Fox comedy block.
Why it might not make it: Networks love to anger me by making bad decisions.
Genre: Single-camera locker-stuffing comedy
Starring: Mike O'Malley (Glee), Missi Pyle (The Artist), Hayley Holmes (The Guild)
What it's about in one sentence: A young genius who also happens to be bigger than the rest of the kids in his class uses his brains and brawn to get what he wants.
Why we want to see it: Imagine if Nelson Muntz and Martin Prince were the SAME KID. Well you won't have to imagine if this show gets made!
Why it might not make it: This is based on a web short, so it may be thin when it comes to material. And the casting of the bully is going to be key.
Genre: Single-camera double-double comedy
Starring: Will Forte (Saturday Night Live), Malcolm Barrett (Better Off Ted), Hayes MacArthur (Perfect Couples), Matt Jones (Breaking Bad)
What it's about in one sentence: After his fiancee dies, a man gets emotional support from his dumb pickup-basketball friends.
Why we want to see it: Sometimes the best comedies are the ones that are unexpectedly emotional, and that's definitely a possibility for this show. Plus it's time for Forte to get his own TV series and Barrett to return to television.
Why it might not make it: Forte is either swish or airball, so it will come down to unique writing.
Genre: Musical drama, y'all!
Starring: Connie Britton (Friday Night Lights), Hayden Pannettiere (Heroes), Eric Close (Without a Trace), Powers Boothe (24)
What it's about in one sentence: A fading country star (Britton) is partnered up with an upcoming teen sensation (Pannettiere) in this family drama set in the world of country music.
Why we want to see it: We'll follow Britton to whatever show she works on, but we're also looking forward to Pannettiere's return to TV. And have you heard the lyrics to country songs? SO MUCH DRAMA!
Why it might not make it: Another f***ing musical show?
Genre: Don't trust the g---- in apartment 23 horror drama
Starring: Terry O'Quinn (Lost), Vanessa Williams (Ugly Betty), Dave Annable (Brothers & Sisters), Rachael Taylor (Charlie's Angels: The Reboot), Mercedes Masohn (The Finder), Robert Buckley (One Tree Hill)
What it's about in one sentence: A couple gets a job managing a New York apartment...a HAUNTED New York apartment!
Why we want to see it: The big draw here is O'Quinn, who plays the building's owner, and his return to a supernatural ABC series. And we're determined to prove that a horror series can work on network TV. (Please work please work please work!)
Why it might not make it: 666 Park Ave. has plenty of potential...to be squandered! ABC is what, 1-for-20 with sci-fi/horror/supernatural shows? And if the show isn't scary, no one will want to move in.
Genre: Mobster men drama
Starring: Dennis Quaid (Enemy Mine), Michael Chiklis (The Shield), Jason O'Mara (Terra Nova), Carrie Anne Moss (The Matrix)
What it's about in one sentence: Based on the true story of Ralph Lamb, a Las Vegas sheriff who battled mobsters in the 1960s.
Why we want to see it: Check out that cast!
Why it might not make it: Is CBS ready for a drama that doesn't feature slick cops with slicker forensics gadgets, rock music, and high-intensity close-ups?
Genre: Single-camera comedy with the power of veto
Starring: Bill Pullman (Torchwood: Miracle Day), Jenna Elfman (Dharma & Greg), Josh Gad (The Book of Mormon), Brittany Snow (Harry's Law)
What it's about in one sentence: This comedy follows the dysfunctional and presidential First Family in the White House.
Why we want to see it: There's so much comedy to dig up with this premise, and we've always wanted to see American policy influenced by the president's douchey son hitting on the Pakistani ambassador's slutty daughter.
Why it might not make it: No reason. This will be on NBC's schedule.
Network: The CW
Genre: Smells like a teen spirit drama
Starring: Scott Wolf (V), Craig Horner (Legend of the Seeker), Amber Stevens (Greek)
What it's about in one sentence: A documentary filmmaker travels back in time (all the way to the 1990s) to meet a rock legend and prevent his untimely death.
Why we want to see it: We're dying to see how the 1990s are portrayed now. Cordless phones are all the rage! Flannel! Nintendo 64!
Why it might not make it: Will flashing back to a time when the network's core audience was in their diapers resonate with them?
Genre: Sensitive single-camera comedy
Starring: Matthew Perry (Chandler!), Laura Benanti (The Playboy Club), Allison Miller (Terra Nova), Suzy Nakamura (Men of a Certain Age), Julie White (Transformers)
What it's about in one sentence: A sportscaster deals with loss and finds help in a support group.
Why we want to see it: Early word on this is that it's not just a "haha" comedy, and will add some serious, emotional moments to the sitcom formula. Plus we're kinda looking forward to a true Matthew Perry TV comeback to ensure there's no Fools Rush In Dos.
Why it might not make it: The Friends curse! That and the fact that audiences sometimes like their comedy to be brainless, with all the emotional depth of a Family Circus cartoon.
Network: The CW
Genre: Post-apocalyptic young adult romance drama
Starring: Aimee Teegarden (Friday Night Lights), Ethan Peck (10 Things I Hate About You), Sean Patrick Thomas (Save the Last Dance)
What it's about in one sentence: Set 300 years in the future, the drama follows a young woman who wins a lottery to compete to be the next queen of a war-ravaged country.
Why we want to see it: OMG Hunger Games had a young woman and a lottery and a post-apocalyptic future, too!
Why it might not make it: Let's not kid ourselves. If a show is going to be set 300 years in the future, we want it to look badass. Can The CW afford the budget necessary to make that happen? Doubtful. Expect this future to look a lot like today but with more soot. Or like modern-day Detroit.
Genre: Single-camera s***-talking comedy
Starring: Sarah Silverman (potty-mouthed female comic), Jeff Goldblum (Jurassic Park), Ken Leung (Lost), Tig Notaro (The Sarah Silverman Show)
What it's about in one sentence: Loosely based on Silverman's life (she dated Jimmy Kimmel for years), this follows a woman who re-enters single life after a lengthy relationship.
Why we want to see it: The polarizing Silverman counts us among her fans (we LOVED The Sarah Silverman Program), and we're excited to see what she can do with a bigger budget. Leung is also well overdue to come back into our lives after playing Miles on Lost.
Why it might not make it: Sarah Silverman on network TV? We were hoping she'd go in the opposite direction and end up on HBO, where she can scream "poo" as loud as she wants without censorship.
Genre: Reimagined, gender-swapping procedural drama
Starring: Jonny Lee Miller (Eli Stone), Lucy Liu (Ally McBeal, Aidan Quinn (Prime Suspect)
What it's about in one sentence: This is a modern-day retelling of the legendary sleuth Sherlock Holmes.
Why we want to see it: The casting of Liu as Watson is a bold choice, and we want to see how it plays out. Miller is perfect for the role of Holmes. Really, we're just curious.
Why it might not make it: This could just as easily be a complete disaster.
Genre: A Professional drama
Starring: Angela Bassett (ER), Julian McMahon (Nip/Tuck), Rick Schroeder (Silver Spoons), Saxon Sharbino (I Spit On Your Grave)
What it's about in one sentence: An orphaned 14-year-old girl is groomed by a CIA agent to be a superspy.
Why we want to see it: Little girls kicking ass rule!
Why it might not make it: Will this be a teen drama disguised as a spy drama and have fun with that combination? Or will it be a gritty drama that has the guts to put its young star through the grinder? It has to be one or the other or it won't work. We hope it doesn't pull punches and becomes the latter.
Genre: Multi-camera single-generational comedy
Starring: Dan Byrd (Cougar Town), Ashley Tisdale (High School Musical), Ryan Hansen (Party Down, the aforementioned El Jefe)
What it's about in one sentence: A bunch of young kids try to follow their dreams while making ends meet.
Why we want to see it: It was created by funnyman and Louie star Louis C.K., which means we'd watch it no matter what.
Why it might not make it: And here's the disclaimer: This pilot was actually written something like 10 years ago and is being dug up for next season. Who knows how it'll hold up? Also, can Louis C.K.'s edgy humor survive on mostly conservative CBS?
Do any of these pilots sound good to you? Do any of them sound terrible?