Every spring, the fight to make network television schedules intensifies as fledgling series are whittled down to the final shortlist of pilots—which started as a mere thought in a lonely writer's mind—that are one step away from breaching Mother Television's womb. Network executives will have plenty to look at before making their decisions on who survives, but we won't be so lucky; all we have to go on are loglines, casting announcements, and hunches. But that's enough for us to have a little fun with the whole process, so here's the 2013 edition of our annual feature 20 Pilots We Hope Get Made Into Series based on what little info we have.
This year's crop of potential series is a huge step up from last season's, when I had to pretend there were 20 good-sounding shows in the works. This year I can almost tell the truth! To make compile the list, I divided my picks equally among comedy and drama, then instantly threw out any series about normal detectives or doctors, all comedies about 20-somethings navigating the dating world, and pretty much every show about parents moving back in with their kids (seriously, there are like 10 of those in development). Instead, I paid close attention to high-concept loglines that jumped off the page, talented cast members, and creators' previous work in picking out winners.
Again, I can't say this enough: these are all hunches. The finished product could be terrible. Heck, last year I had 666 Park Avenue on the list. Whoops! So with that said, here's what I think sounds good this season.
Genre: Single-camera Keystone Kops comedy
Starring: Andy Samberg (the penis-in-a-box guy from SNL), Andre Braugher (Last Resort), Terry Crews (the really muscly Old Spice guy), Melissa Fumero (Gossip Girl), Chelsea Peretti (Parks and Recreation). From Parks and Recreation writers Dan Goor and Mike Schur.
What it's about in one sentence: A diverse bunch of New York cops get into comedy capers!
Why we want to see it: Because everyone loves Police Academy! Samberg has been overdue for a TV series for a long time, and even though Brauer is known for drama, the man can do funny very well. What's not to like about a bunch of goofy cops?
Why it might not make it: This has to be a shoo-in to make the schedule, doesn't it? The only way it won't is if a network exec suffers a brain fart. So I guess a 75-percent chance it doesn't make it.
Genre: Manipulative drama
Starring: Christian Slater (Breaking In), Steve Zahn (Treme), Megalyn Echikunwoke (Made in Jersey). From Awake creator Kyle Killen.
What it's about in one sentence: Two brothers, one a genius and the other a con, start an agency to solve problems using the real science of manipulation and motivation.
Why we want to see it: Though this sounds much more grounded than Killen's other material, the man knows how to make good television. Zahn is also a favorite, and we're rooting for Slater to break his curse.
Why it might not make it: Are manipulation and motivation sexy enough to draw in a big audience? Yes they are, especially in Killen's hands, and I'll give you a dollar to believe me.
Genre: Single-camera British adaptation of a pretty good show
Starring: Kristen Schaal (Flight of the Conchords, The Daily Show), June Diane Raphael (New Girl), Jenny Slate (House of Lies, Saturday Night Live), Matt Oberg (The Onion News Network, Ugly Americans)
What it's about in one sentence: Based on the British series of the same name, three 30-something ladies live like they're college kids and are clueless about settling down.
Why we want to see it: Look at that cast! Schaal and Slate are particular favorites, and they're ideal for roles like this. Plus, when Schaal stepped in to replace Mandy Moore, one of the pilot's original casting choices (WTF?), it was a great sign that the creators had refined their sense of direction. We're hoping this is the big break for the very funny Oberg, too.
Why it might not make it: A wise man once said, "STOP IT WITH THE BRITISH ADAPTATIONS ALREADY!" That wise man is dead now—he was killed when NBC announced it was adapting Free Agents—but his wisdom still lives on.
Genre: The old banana-in-the-tailpipe cop procedural
Starring: Brandon T. Jackson (Tropic Thunder), Eddie Murphy (Beverly Hills Cop), Christine Lahti (Chicago Hope), David Denman (The Office), Kevin Pollack (The Usual Suspects)
What it's about in one sentence: It's an update of the classic comedy, following Axel Foley's son as he tries to live outside his famous cop dad's shadow. From Last Resort and Terriers creator Shawn Ryan.
Why we want to see it: We'd watch a puppet show by Shawn Ryan, simply because of his superb track record. But have you seen Beverly Hills Cop lately? That movie holds up VERY well even today, and if Ryan can wrangle the spirit of the film, this could be the type of procedural that's worth watching.
Why it might not make it: Beverly Hills Cop was one of those films where everything went right; the TV update will need that kind of luck, too.
Genre: Boozy, single-camera comedy
Starring: Kate Simses (What's Your Number), Ginger Gonzaga (Ted, Legit), Blake Lee (Parks and Recreation)
What it's about in one sentence: Hot chicks and hunky dudes head to a chi-chi Manhattan bar looking for lust.
Why we want to see it: The logline makes it sound as plain as a vodka soda, but there's a catch: There are 10 lead characters (which explains the "Who?" casting) and the entire first season chronicles one night. So it's like The Nine but with less murder and more maraschino cherries. We're still trying to figure out whether having the writers of The Hangover behind it helps it or hurts it, though.
Why it might not make it: I'm waiting for more serialized comedy, you're waiting for more serialized comedy, but TV networks HATE serialized comedy. This sounds like a serialized comedy, and that means it'll have to be really funny to make it to air. Then it can be unceremoniously canceled.
Network: The CW
Genre: Post-apocalyptic deja vu teen drama
Starring: Michael Malarkey, Yael Groblas, Anthony Head (Buffy the Vampire Slayer), Lucien Laviscount (who cares, look at that name!)
What it's about in one sentence: Based on a book and 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: Because it didn't make it to air last year when it was also on this list, and we want to see why The CW decided to give it another try with a total overhaul. Plus, I look forward to typing the name "Lucien Laviscount" over and over again when we cover it. But really, the story here is sort of Hunger Games-ish but with less killing.
Why it might not make it: It didn't work the first time, why should it work the second time?
Genre: Super-powered deep-fried single-camera comedy
Starring: Rupert Grint (Harry Potter's redhead), Tyler Labine (Reaper), Stephen Fry (Blackadder). From Greg Garcia, creator of My Name is Earl, Raising Hope.
What it's about in one sentence: A fast-food worker (Grint) receives a huge inheritance and decides to become a superhero.
Why we want to see it: We can talk about the great cast that includes Grint's first American TV role, the always hilarious Labine, and the legendary Frye, or we can talk about the fun and goofy premise, but really, we want to see a single-camera comedy on CBS.
Why it might not make it: It's a single-camera comedy on CBS. Unless CBS is really looking to get into single-cams, what does this pair with?
Genre: Time-jumping adorkable single-camera comedy
Starring: Ellie Kemper (The Office), David Krumholtz (Partners, Numb3rs), Stephnie Weir (MADtv)
What it's about in one sentence: The story of a unique (we're guessing "adorkable") 31-year-old woman is told via flashbacks to her past as a 13-year old.
Why we want to see it: Another high-concept comedy, this time telling interweaving stories from Brenda's (Kemper) past and present. It's like The Adventures of Young New Girl mixed with New Girl, and Kemper has the chops to make this work.
Why it might not make it: Are we already over the quirky hot girl who can't get a date yet?
Genre: Kill All Humans cop drama
Starring: Karl Urban (Star Trek the movie), Michael Ealy (Common Law), Lili Taylor (Hemlock Grove so I guess she doesn't survive the first season?), Minka Kelly (Friday Night Lights), Mackenzie Crook (The Office U.K., Game of Thrones). But the biggest name here is J.J. Abrams, who shepherded this project with J.H. Wyman (Fringe).
What it's about in one sentence: ROBOT COPS ROBOT COPS ROBOT COPS working with human cops in the fuuuuuuuuture!
Why we want to see it: Because ROBOT COPS! This series could go in lots of different directions. Also, Abrams' participation attracted a great cast. And after Wyman's great run with Fringe, we're confident he'll have some great prime directives for this series.
Why it might not make it: Lots of people are trying to weave sci-fi elements into primetime television, and they're not having much luck. The combination of police procedural and ROBOTS might help, but this is still sci-fi. Get ready for plenty of "small but loyal audience" mentions in blurbs for this one.
Genre: Typical girl-needs-to-kill-her-mom-and-is-sought-after-by-two-families-of-assassins drama.
Starring: KaDee Strickland (Private Practice), Tom Everett Scott (Southland), Jonathan Banks (Breaking Bad), Skyler Samuels (The Nine Lives of Chloe King), Chris Zylka (The Secret Circle)
What it's about in one sentence: An orphaned girl caught between two families comprised of hitmen and assassins is mentored by a Chinese man and must kill her mom to lead a normal life okay sure that sounds pretty normal.
Why we want to see it: Ummm, did you read that logline? This has epic insane drama written all over it with murder and Karate Kid and Kill Bill.
Why it might not make it: It could all collapse under its ambition and be toned down for network television, making it a huge dud. This has to be a 10pm show, and that's an unkind slot.
Genre: Single-camera bachelor fest
Starring: Chris Smith (Paranormal Activity 3), Kal Penn (Kumar!), Jerry O'Connell (Sliders), Tony Shalhoub (Monk)
What it's about in one sentence: A young man (Smith) becomes buddies with a bunch of older dudes he meets in a short-term living complex that's popular with divorced men.
Why we want to see it: That's a pretty solid cast, led by the return of Penn and Shalhoub to television. But really, the idea of a bunch of loser men as the underdogs after being thrown out by their wives has appeal in a CBS-comedy sort of way.
Why it might not make it: Just as easily as this could work, it could really not work. And honestly, this was the last comedy to make the cut because I couldn't find anything better.
Genre: Magical firearms Western drama
Starring: Michael Huisman (Nashville, Treme), Elena Satine (Melrose Place), Laura Ramsey (Ummm... My Generation?), Aldis Hodge (Leverage)
What it's about in one sentence: Based on a graphic novel, this Western follows the stories behind six magical guns with special powers.
Why we want to see it: Western. Sci-fi. Magic guns. Based on an established graphic novel. Yes, yes, yes, yes!
Why it might not make it: This is exactly the kind of ambitious genre project that NBC will butcher beyond recognition to make it easier to swallow for the masses.
Genre: Avengers for the small screen semi-superhero drama
Starring: Ming Na (Eureka), Clark Gregg (The New Adventures of Old Christine, The Avengers), Brett Dalton (Killing Lincoln), Elizabeth Henstridge (Hollyoaks), Iain De Caestecker, and a bunch of other people whose names you don't know but will be superstars. This is Joss Whedon's baby.
What it's about in one sentence: Action-drama from Whedon about Marvel Comics' famed secret intelligence agency that crosses over into superhero stories.
Why we want to see it: Duhhhhhhhhhhhhhh! Whedon brings his success with The Avengers to your TV and you're asking why we want to see it? Puh-leeeeze.
Why it might not make it: It'll make it.
Genre: Single-camera father-daughter pasttime
Starring: Maggie Lawson (Psych), James Caan (something called The Godfather), Ben Koldyke (Work It), Lenora Crichlow (U.K.'s Being Human)
What it's about in one sentence: A recently divorced woman moves back in with her dad and reluctantly coaches her son's Little League team.
Why we want to see it: Lawson plays a woman who tried to leave sports behind, but gets dragged back into it. This one has a chance to have a lot of heart in addition to laughs, and since I love laugh-crying and killing two birds with one stone, it stands out.
Why it might not make it: This one is going to be all about tone, and if it hits that sweet spot (pun intended) between the magic of sports and how it can help rebuild lives, it should be a home run. Anything else could be a strikeout. Although there's the slight possibility that it could be like the infield fly rule, or even a ground rule double. Sports cliches!
Genre: Single-camera '80s nostalgia
Starring: Wendi McLendon-Covey (Bridesmaids), Jeff Garlin (Curb Your Enthusiasm), George Segal (Just Shoot Me!). From Adam F. Goldberg (Breaking In).
What it's about in one sentence: In the style of The Wonder Years, this look back at childhood in the '80s is based on Goldberg's life.
Why we want to see it: Television is ready for an '80s-set comedy. We're all finally over That '80s Show, right?
Why it might not make it: There's not a lot of starpower, and kids haven't been able to carry primetime since, well, The Wonder Years.
Genre: Single-camera comedy gettin' smart
Starring: Rob Corddry (Childrens Hospital), Paget Brewster (Criminal Minds), Nat Faxon (Ben & Kate), Ken Jeong (Community, this awesome music video)
What it's about in one sentence: Looking to prove himself to his son, a man (Corddry) accidentally joins the Secret Service.
Why we want to see it: If you've seen Corddry in any sort of police/secret agent role, you know he kills it. This has modern-day Get Smart potential, which could be way better than it sounds. Plus, we need Jeong on our TVs at all times in something other than Hangover reruns on Spike TV, and if Community doesn't make it, this is his fallback.
Why it might not make it: ABC might see this for what it is: a comedy that pulls in a small but loyal following. No one wants one of those right now.
Genre: The biggest doctor drama you'll ever see
Starring: Jason Isaacs (Awake), Kathryn Morris (Cold Case), Beth Riesgraf (Leverage), Sean Astin (a hobbit)
What it's about in one sentence: You'll never guess what this one's about! Oh, I guess you can tell by the title. It's a medical drama following the Surgeon General.
Why we want to see it: Normally, a medical drama is been-there-done-that super snooze alert. But with Isaacs as the doc of the United States, this one could be a lot bigger than another soap with surgeries.
Why it might not make it: Then again, it's surgeries that usually add a lot of the tension to medical dramas. Will we be that pumped up for medical bureaucracy?
Network: The CW
Genre: Rebuilding Earth with hot kids sci-fi drama
Starring: Eliza Taylor (Neighbours), Henry Ian Cusick (Lost), Kelly Hu (Arrow), Isaiah Washington (Grey's Anatomy), Paige Turco (Person of Interest)
What it's about in one sentence: After stupid Earthlings nuke the Earth to smithereens, a spaceship housing the last of mankind sends 100 juvenile delinquents down to the planet to see if we can move back in.
Why we want to see it: No one is sick of post-apocalyptic shows yet, and who better to test out the scorched Earth than sexy young teens? There's a lot of potential here, and the cast is pretty established given that this is The CW.
Why it might not make it: Will this be too bleak to find an audience on The CW? Better keep the shirts off the hunks!
Genre: Multi-camera comedy, yes, a multi-camera comedy actually made the list
Starring: Will Arnett (Arrested Development), Margo Martindale (The Americans), Beau Bridges (My Name Is Earl), JB Smoove (Curb Your Enthusiasm), Mary Elizabeth Ellis (It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia). From Greg Garcia, creator of My Name is Earl, Raising Hope.
What it's about in one sentence: A recently divorced man has to deal with new problems when his parents, who are having marital problems of their own, move in with him... yikes!
Why we want to see it: The cast and Garcia's proven history!
Why it might not make it: Everything but the cast! Can Will Arnett work in a multi-camera setup?
*Unauthorized appears to be a jokey Garcia synonym for "untitled."
Genre: Drama version of The Lottery Changed My Life
Starring: Stephen Louis Grush (The Mob Doctor), Isiah Witlock, Jr. (The Wire), Summer Bushil (90210)
What it's about in one sentence: The lives of gas station employees in Queens are forever changed when they pool together and win the lottery.
Why we want to see it: I've always wondered how this situation would play out in real life, so this is the next best thing. There are lots of crazy possible directions for this, and there's always compelling drama in the nouveau riche.
Why it might not make it: It's another adaptation of a British television series, and those seasons only last five episodes. How is this going to expand to 22?
Do any of these pilots sound good to you? Do any of them sound terrible?