Matt Ryan as John Constantine, the titular lead character of NBC's Constantine pilot.
Pilot season is all around us! This time of year, you can't even take three steps without squishing the toes of a television pilot, so it's time for network executives everywhere to thin the herd and decide which new TV shows will be added to their schedules for the fall. And while they're busy making their (probably bad) decisions, I'm going to play along and pretend I'm a big-shot network boss who's picking and choosing from the massive crop of potential new shows.
Most of these pilots have just started shooting or are about to start shooting, I have very little to go on other than measly nuggets of information from the Hollywood trades. However, because we live in an age of internet speculation, that's good enough for me. So, what criteria did a pilot have to meet to earn a spot on this list? All the projects you'll read about below have either: A) a good concept, B) an excellent cast, D) a proven series creator/showrunner, or D) some combination of items A, B, and C.
If all goes right in the next month or so, the 15 pilots listed here will be coming to our TV screens during the 2014–2015 TV season. Let's run through them, shall we?
Oh, wait, a couple more things to note before we begin:
1. This year, many of the pilots that would've been low-hanging fruit for this list were ordered straight to series (including Vince Gilligan's Battle Creek and Fox's Gotham, for example), which makes their inclusion moot. So that's why they're not here. We'll cover the straight-to-series orders at a later date.
2. As I say every year, some of these pilots will be made into series, and the results will be awful and nothing like we expected/hoped for. Case in point, CBS's We Are Men (original title: Ex-Men) made last year's version of this list thanks to its great cast, and that turned out to be one of the worst things my eyeballs have ever been subjected to. Please consider this list a guide and not an authoritative rundown of what will be awesome.
Mission Control (NBC)
Genre: Anchorman goes to spaaaaace single-cam comedy
Starring: Krysten Ritter (the B in Apt. 23, Jessie's girl from Breaking Bad), Tommy Dewey (one of Mindy's exes on The Mindy Project), Michael Rosenbaum (Smallville's Lex), Malcolm Barrett (Better Off Ted), Jonathan Slavin (Better Off Ted). Produced by Adam McKay and Will Ferrell (Funny or Die)
What it's about in one sentence: A strong female astronaut and an arrogant male astronaut battle to be first on the moon in this '60s-set comedy that's similar in tone to Anchorman.
Why we want to see it: Done right, this could channel the Sex Panther aroma and be as wonderful as a whale's vagina. What I mean is, "similar in tone to Anchorman" sounds like a perfect fit for the story, and the cast is four-for-four up front. I'd gladly watch the talented (and purrrrrty) Ritter do laundry, Dewey earned a lead role after a great turn on Mindy, and a Better Off Ted reunion on a rocket ship for Barrett and Slavin is long overdue. And at least it ain't Astronauts Wives Club.
Why it might not make it: The pilot was written and produced by David Hornsby, who last brought us CBS's absolutely dreadful How to Be a Gentleman.
Damaged Goods (ABC)
Genre: An Awkward. single-camera comedy
Starring: Anna Camp (sexy minister's wife from True Blood and Mindy Kaling's Project friend), Jennifer Aspen (GCB), Steve Talley (a Stifler from the American Pie straight-to-DVD movies), Justin Hartley (the original new Green Arrow). From Awkward. creator Lauren Iungerich
What it's about in one sentence: Damaged Goods apparently explores "the sexual politics that have changed between men and women in the post-feminist era."
Why we want to see it: Yeah, the vague and generic logline is about as informative as "comedy," but Awkward. was initially just a show about high school and Iungerich's excellent work on the early seasons of the MTV hit makes her next project a must-see. And the idea of Iungerich writing for Camp—who is due for a breakout role—is too good to pass up.
Why it might not make it: Iungerich and Camp aren't household names yet, so if ABC is looking for star power, it may pass on this one. Also, Damaged Goods could be Trophy Wife all over again, and ABC surely doesn't want to revisit the latter's disappointing ratings.
Genre: Comic-book adaptation attempt number 11,372
Starring: Matt Ryan (Criminal Minds: Suspect Behavior), Lucy Griffiths (True Blood), Harold Perrineau (Lost's "Waaaaaaaaalt!" screamer), Charles Halford (True Detective's Reggie Ledoux)
What it's about in one sentence: Based on the DC Comic, Constantine follows wise-cracking John Constantine, a master of the occult who finds himself having to save humanity from the dark forces that want to destroy us all.
Why we want to see it: As scared as we are that this project is in NBC's hands, we still want to see it on our televisions. The story is readymade for today's serialized procedurals, too.
Why it might not make it: A broadcast version of Constantine can't be as sharp and prickly as the guy in the comics, can he? No one wants to see a favorite comic character dressed up and watered down for NBC's primetime. (Except for NBC, of course.)
The Visitors (ABC)
Genre: ABC's sci-fi drama entry of the year
Starring: Barry Sloane (Revenge), Lily Rabe (American Horror Story's Stevie Nicks fangirl), Milo Ventimiglia (Heroes and unfortunately Mob City)
What it's about in one sentence: An unseen alien enemy tries to destroy our planet by using our most valuable resource:
gas Netflix children.
Why we want to see it: Any time ABC—or any major network for that matter—puts out a sci-fi show, we just HAVE to check it out, even though it will probably be a disaster. Aliens? Okay! And we've always known our children would be the end of us.
Why it might not make it: Wait, Spielberg? Aliens? Kids? Isn't this Falling Skies all over again? And Falling Skies is on cable! Someday the broadcast networks will realize they're largely incapable of making good science-fiction shows. That day could come in 2014. (But we hope it doesn't, because we miss the unintended lulz of FlashForward, V, and The Event!)
American Crime (ABC)
Genre: "Let's try a cable-style drama on network television"
Starring: Timothy Hutton (Leverage, the Falcon in The Falcon and the Snowman), Felicity Huffman (Desperate Housewives), Elvis Nolasco (Oldboy), Caitlin Gerard (Zac Stone Is Gonna Be Famous). Written by 12 Years a Slave scribe and Academy Award-winner and Steve McQueen-hater John Ridley
What it's about in one sentence: Your television screen will explode with all the drama surrounding a big-time trial involving race, and the show will closely examine the personal effects of the court case on everyone involved in it. This won't be controversial at all!
Why we want to see it: American Crime is going to be as serious as a heart attack, and Ridley—who took home a statue shaped like a little golden man for his work on 12 Years a Slave—is the right man to bring it to the small screen. But one request, ABC: How about going for a limited run of 13 episodes?
Why it might not make it: Prestige dramas have a habit of underperforming for the broadcast networks, and American Crime will have more prestige in its pinky finger than all of ABC's female-skewing soaps. It's also looking like a lightning rod for controversy, and no network is actively seeking out unwanted criticism, even if it sparks debates that our country needs to have.
Cabot College (Fox)
Genre: Single-camera Tina Feymedy
Starring: Margaret Cho, Jack Cutmore-Scott (Broadway!), Bonnie Dennison (Third Watch), Fortune Feimster (Chelsea Handler's posse), and Brandon Jones (CSI)
What it's about in one sentence: When an all-female college finally opens its doors to male students, *BOINGGGGGG!!!*
Why we want to see it: Cabot College is Tina Fey's first post-30 Rock producing deal at NBC, so it gets an automatic entry on this list. But the college setting and possible Porky's vibe probably would have been enough.
Why it might not make it: When the biggest name, second-biggest name, third-biggest name, and fourth-biggest name of a series is all the same person—a behind-the-scenes producer named Tina Fey—the series might not have enough draw to earn a mainstream audience. Cabot College needs a star in front of the camera, and Cho isn't it.
Untitled Cusack, McCabe, Elmore, Cavell Project (CBS)
Genre: Piggybacking-on-Oscar-buzz drama
Starring: Charlie Cox (Boardwalk Empire), Maggie Grace (Lost and an unfortunate hour of The Following), badass character actor David Morse (Treme), and John Cusack as a special guest
What it's about in one sentence: Set in the world of big-money Wall Street, it's The Wolf of Wall Street: The Series!
Why we want to see it: The high-stakes setting and fast-talking money pushers in America's capitalist epicenter make for a potentially good drama, but the fact that Justified writers Taylor Elmore and Ben Cavell created the show makes for a potentially great drama.
Why it might not make it: If this project is really about Wall Street traders, the chances of it having any genuinely likable characters is pretty much ZERO, and the broadcast networks aren't ready for true anti-hero dramas.
Genre: Hip-hop drama, boyeeeeeee!
Starring: Terrence Howard (Iron Man but not Iron Man 2), Taraji P. Henson (Person of Interest's Joss Carter), Malik Yoba (Alphas), Jussie Smollett (Jurnee's bro)
What it's about in one sentence: This family drama follows the head of a hip-hop record label as he tries to be a big shot.
Why we want to see it: It's rare for a TV show's songwriter and music producer to catch our
eye ear, but with the beat-centric Empire, music will be a huge part of the equation. Enter Timbaland, one of the industry's best, and it looks like Empire will have the same musical chops as Nashville's first season did when T-Bone Burnett was writing the songs.
Why it might not make it: A hip-hop drama is risky business for a broadcast network, and if it falls into the pitfalls of the music genre's stereotypes, it could be something that even Fox realizes won't work.
My Thoughts Exactly (ABC)
Genre: Single-camera internal-monologuing comedy
Starring: Analeigh Tipton (one of America's next top models, Crazy, Stupid, Love), Jake McDorman (Shameless), Jade Catta-Preta (Californication), Kurt Fuller (Psych)
What it's about in one sentence: Both halves of a new couple reveal what they're really thinking through internal monologues.
Why we want to see it: We're always looking for new ways to break the comedy mold, and the concept feels very much like that of a U.K. comedy. Sounds kind of Peep Show-ish, doesn't it?
Why it might not make it: Conceptual and innovative comedies just don't seem to make it big over here in America, where most sitcoms are all about laugh track, insult joke, sexual innuendo, repeat.
Red Band Society (Fox)
Genre: Tear-jerking dark comedy
Starring: Octavia Spencer (The Help), Dave Annable (the very pleasant guy from 666 Park Avenue and Brothers and Sisters), Griffin Gluck (the kid from Back in the Game), and other teens
What it's about in one sentence: Based on the Spanish series Polseres vermelles, several teens from different backgrounds bond during their extended stay at a hospital.
Why we want to see it: Red Band Society is being billed as a dark dramedy, so it could easily provide the full range of emotions that come with deep friendships, childlike wonder, and terminal illnesses. Bring a box of Kleenex and let this show beat you back and forth like a happy-sad punching bag!
Why it might not make it: Red Band Society sounds like something that would be great for IFC, ABC Family, or another niche network, but this may be another one of ABC's attempts at ensemble dramedy like The Unusuals, Lucky 7, Pan Am, GCB, Detroit 1-8-7, The Gates or whatever else ABC thought would work.
Marry Me (NBC)
Genre: Potentially a-mah-zing single-camera comedy
Starring: Casey Wilson (Happy Endings' Penny), Ken Marino (Party Down, the hunk o' Burning Love), Tim Meadows (Saturday Night Live, Mean Girls). Created by Happy Endings mastermind David Caspe
What it's about in one sentence: A couple—Wilson and Marino—gets engaged and realize that prepping for marriage ain't all that easy
Why we want to see it: If Marry Me is half as good as real-life couple Caspe and Wilson's previous show, then it will be four times better than most network comedies. The addition of Marino, the perfect opposite of Wilson, to their holy matrimony makes this project even more promising.
Why it might not make it: NBC might look at what happened with Happy Endings, remember that Sean Hayes isn't involved with Marry Me, and say, "Nahhhh..."
Jane the Virgin (The CW)
Genre: Absolutely insane telenovela adaptation because why not?
Starring: Gina Rodriguez (The Bold and the Beautiful), Jaime Camil (he's big in Mexico), Yael Grobglas (Reign's Olivia), Bret Dier (Ravenswood's Luke)
What it's about in one sentence: Okay, ready? A religious Hispanic girl is accidentally artificially inseminated by a doctor after a series of unfortunate events.
Why we want to see it: Ummm... did you read that logline? This has the chance to be something special, and by "something special," we mean something special. Entertainment comes in all forms, and sometimes it takes the shape of series of slapstick misunderstandings that eventually lead to an involuntary artificial pregnancy!
Why it might not make it: Ummm... did you read that logline?
Dead Boss (Fox)
Genre: Single-camera whodunnit comedy
Starring: Jane Krakowski (30 Rock), Amy Sedaris (Strangers With Candy), Rachel Dratch (Saturday Night Live), David Cross (as the titular dead boss)
What it's about in one sentence: Based on a British series, Krakowski stars as a woman who's wrongfully accused of murdering her boss and forced to rely on her bumbling sister to prove her innocence.
Why we want to see it: An excellent cast and a darkly comic plot make us excited for this one. Sedaris is long overdue to return to television, so make it happen, Fox!
Why it might not make it: This wacky comedy sounds more appropriate for Comedy Central than broadcast primetime, and Fox is going to be very picky with its comedies this year.
iZombie (The CW)
Genre: Just your standard zombie solves crimes by eating brains procedural
Starring: Rose McIver (Once Upon a Time's Tinkerbell), Robert Buckley (One Tree Hill, 666 Park Avenue), Malcolm Goodwin (Breakout Kings), David Anders (the bad guy from Alias, Heroes, and pretty much everything he's ever been in), Nora Dunn (Saturday Night Live). From Veronica Mars' Rob Thomas
What it's about in one sentence: A med student who also happens to be a zombie gets a job in a coroner's office so she can eat brains. However, with every one she eats, she also ingests the corpse's memories... and she uses them to help solve crimes.
Why we want to see it: The concept of this comic-book adaptation is intriguing (and reminiscent of the failed Showtime pilot Chew, which was also a comic adaptation). Plus, with Thomas behind it, you know there's a solid plan. It's Veronica Mars if V-Mars ate people, basically.
Why it might not make it: Is anyone ready for a zombie detective show? Also, that name. YICK!
The Pro (NBC)
Genre: Anyone for a single-camera comedy?
Starring: Rob Lowe (Parks and Recreation, Liberace's plastic surgeon in Behind the Candelabra, Drew Peterson: Untouchable), Rob Riggle (those annoying NFL pregame segments for Fox), Rebecca Romijn (Maxwell of King & Maxwell), Kevin Nealon (Saturday Night Live)
What it's about in one sentence: A former doubles tennis champion is reunited with his partner after a longstanding feud between the two.
Why we want to see it: Short shorts and headbands!
Why it might not make it: Not to be agist, but is anyone in the cast under 40? Young people are sexy to network executives.