Pilot Season Report: Network TV Insists It's Still Relevant

With pilot season in full swing and casting completed on several projects already, the 2014-2015 TV season is beginning to take shape. We’ve gathered and rated some of the pilots floating out there among the big five networks.

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With pilot season in full swing and casting completed on several projects already, the 2014-2015 TV season is beginning to take shape. Below we’ve gathered just some of the many pilots floating out there among the big five networks, gathered loosely into three groups—“We’re Intrigued,” for shows with obvious potential, “Could Go Either Way,” which is pretty self-explanatory, and “Oh No” for the projects that just scream “utter bomb.”

We're Intrigued

American Crime (ABC/Drama) – This John Ridley-penned drama about a racially charged trial and its aftermath stars Timothy Hutton, Felicity Huffman and Penelope Ann Miller. Its stock has certainly risen following Ridley’s Oscar win for writing 12 Years A Slave.

Battle Creek (CBS/Drama) – Vince Gilligan’s first post-Breaking Bad project already has a 13-episode order. It stars Josh Duhamel and Dean Winters as good cop/bad cop detectives looking to clean up a nasty town. Two-time Oscar nominee Janet McTeer co-stars along with Kal Penn, and House creator David Shore will serve as showrunner, and Bryan Singer will direct the pilot.

Black-ish (ABC/Comedy) – Anthony Anderson plays a suburban dad trying to instill a cultural identity in his upper-middle-class kids. The very talented Kenya Barris created the show, and Larry Wilmore will serve as showrunner. Wilmore was behind the great early seasons of The Bernie Mac Show, and this has the same vibe—it stars Anthony Anderson, Laurence Fishburne as his dad, and Tracee Ellis Ross as his wife.

Untitled Brian Gallivan Project (ABC/Comedy)– One of America’s finest stand-up comedians, Paul F. Tompkins, and the wonderful Molly Shannon play a married couple who open a group of tourist cottages in this comedy from Happy Endings writer Brian Gallivan. The pedigree is strong here.

Cabot College (Fox/Comedy) – This show already has a series commitment from Fox and feels like the stronger of Tina Fey’s two pilots this year. It’s about a women’s college that opens its doors to men for the first time. Margaret Cho stars, Tina Fey exec produces, 30 Rock’s Matt Hubbard wrote.

Dead Boss (Fox/Comedy) – Jane Krakowski and Amy Sedaris. What more do you need to know? Okay, Krakowski gets accused of murdering boss, and her insane sister (Sedaris) has to help her. Barry Sonnenfeld directed, and Patricia Breen of Suburgatory wrote the pilot. This could really be something.

Empire (Fox/Drama) – This family drama, about hip-hop empire starring Terrence Howard and Taraji P. Henson (Hustle and Flow reunion!) could be a total mess. Danny Strong and Lee Daniels (the team behind The Butler) created it. Original songs will be produced by Timbaland. It’ll certainly be exciting television.

Gotham (Fox/Drama) – It’s Smallville for Batman, starring Ben McKenzie as young Commissioner Gordon. Donal Louge, Jada Pinkett Smith and Sean Pertwee round out the adult cast, but there’s also a bunch of kids as Bruce Wayne and the Penguin and Catwoman and so on. This will get a lot of advertising play if nothing else.

How I Met Your Dad (CBS/Comedy)– Greta Gerwig stars and helps write this spinoff “inspired by” the original concept of How I Met Your Mother. It’s created by Up All Night’s Emily Spivey, and Drew Tarver and Krysta Rodriguez have been cast as Gerwig’s best buds. No one was excited for this until Gerwig got cast, and now everyone’s excited.

iZombie (The CW/Drama) – Listen to this premise: a medical student/walking zombie takes a job in the coroner’s office, and eats corpse brains to maintain her humanity. Then she inherits corpse memories, and uses them to solve crimes. Now listen to who’s behind it: Veronica Mars’ Rob Thomas and Diane Ruggerio. It sounds bonkers, the title is dumb, but you can’t ignore Thomas’ talent.

Marry Me (NBC/Comedy) – Casey Wilson and Ken Marino get married and realize it’s harder than it looks! This is from Happy Endings creator David Caspe, and also stars Tim Meadows, the underrated Sarah Wright, and John Gemberling (currently kicking ass on Broad City). We barely need a plot description. That cast and that writer are enough reason to get excited.

Mulaney (Fox/Comedy) – NBC absurdly turned down this multi-cam comedy starring and created by the brilliant stand-up comedian John Mulaney, last year. Fox wisely snapped it up and has already committed to six episodes. Martin Short, Nasim Pedrad, and Elliott Gould are among the ensemble. Go watch Mulaney’s special New In Town on Netflix and then you’ll understand.

Old Soul (NBC/Comedy) – Amy Poehler wrote and Natasha Lyonne stars in a dark-sounding comedy about a young woman working as an aide to elderly people. It’s somewhat inspired by Lyonne’s…interesting life. I like this new era of Amy Poehler as mogul.

Untitled Jim Gaffigan Project (CBS/Comedy) – This autobiographical family sitcom starring stand-up Gaffigan feels like a potential throwback hit. Adam Goldberg, Michael Ian Black, and Ashley Williams are in the mix too, and old hand Peter Tolan helped Gaffigan script. This is a holdover from last year’s season, but maybe it’ll squeeze onto CBS’s crammed lineup this year.

Could Go Either Way

Astronauts Wives Club (ABC/Drama) – This Josh Schwartz-produced adaptation of Lily Koppel’s books has already been ordered to series. Set in the ‘60s, it stars Joanna Garcia Swisher as one of the women married to the heroes of the space race. It’s Army Wives meets Apollo 13! Stephanie Savage (Gossip Girl) wrote.

Bad Judge (NBC/Comedy)– Kate Walsh (Private Practice) is the star of this Will Ferrell/Adam McKay joint, playing a “bad” judge. That means she’s “sexually unapologetic”  and her life is lived on the edge. Walsh actually has decent comic timing, but this sounds pretty hackneyed.

Backstrom (Fox/Drama)– Rainn Wilson plays an irritating fat detective who no one likes. That’s pretty much right from the press notes on this show, based on a series of Swedish novels. This was originally developed for CBS. I wonder why they passed? It also stars Kristoffer Polaha (Life Unexpected) and Dennis Haysbert. Bones’ Hart Hanson wrote the pilot.

Feed Me (NBC/Comedy) – Mary Louise-Parker runs a restaurant and has a crazy family in her first big project since Weeds. It’s from Steel Magnolias writer Sally Robinson, but more importantly, the production team of Paul Junger Witt and Tony Thomas, who brought us Golden Girls and Blossom and haven't made a sitcom in 15 years. But that's okay, because Mary-Louise Parker is a perfectly rational choice to topline a generic network comedy. Remember how well Parker Posey worked out on The Return of Jezebel James?

Flash (CW/Drama) – Spinning out of Arrow, and starring Grant Custin of Glee (along with Jesse L. Martin and Tom Cavanagh), this is a straightforward-looking adaptation of the DC comics about the super-speed hero. But will it hit that culty sweet spot that Arrow has already found?

How to Get Away with Murder (ABC/Drama)– Shonda Rhimes is the executive producer on this script from Grey’s Anatomy writer Peter Nowalk. It sounds pretty dark, following some law students who idolize their professor (Viola Davis) even after she gets entangled in a murder plot. Rhimes’ projects certainly hit more often than they miss, and here’s hoping the show lives up to Davis’ incredible talent.

Irreversible (ABC/Comedy) – Based on a hit Israeli series, this follows a wacky, self-absorbed couple. David Schwimmer, making his first big foray back to television, stars with Iris Bahr. The original show’s creator Segahl Avin and the aforementioned Peter Tolan scripted. What, no one else is hoping for a David Schwimmer renaissance?

Keep It Together (ABC/Comedy) – Right now, Kevin Hart is the hottest thing in showbiz, so here’s an autobiographical show about a stand-up comedian who’s recently divorced, trying to make the new situation work for his kids. Romany Malco stars as Hart’s stand-in, Kevin Hart recurs in some sort of role. ABC will pick this up.

Madam Secretary (CBS/Drama) – Tea Leoni (remember her!?) is the Secretary of State in this weighty-sounding drama created by Homeland’s Barbara Hall. Tim Daly and Bebe Neuwirth are also part of the cast, and Morgan Freeman is producing.

Mission Control (NBC/Comedy) – Another Funny or Die production, this 1962 workplace comedy is about a lady upsetting the gender balance at NASA, and stars Krysten Ritter and Tommy Dewey (the kinda-mean boyfriend from season one of The Mindy Project). It’s from David Hornsby, who has worked on It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia from the beginning but also created the execrable How to Be a Gentleman.

More Time with Family (CBS/Comedy)– Here, a dad quits his job to spend…you get it. Tom Papa and Alyson Hannigan star in this multi-camera comedy, with Hannigan wasting no time finding a new project after How I Met Your Mother. Joe Pantoliano’s in this one too, and Matt Damon and Ben Affleck are producing

The Odd Couple (CBS/Comedy) – Matthew Perry, who’s already seen his shows canceled by NBC (twice) and ABC, is obviously trying for some kind of trifecta here. Or maybe this multi-cam revival of an old classic will actually work? He’s co-writing with Frasier’s Joe Keenan, and his co-star is yet to be cast.

Selfie (ABC/Comedy) – This would definitely be in the “Oh no” category if it wasn’t created by Suburgatory’s Emily Kapnek and starring Amy Pond herself, Karen Gillan. But…it’s about a woman “more concerned with ‘likes’ than being liked.” What? Apparently she’s the subject of a popular viral breakup video and works to repair her image after the humiliation settles.

Tooken (NBC/Comedy) – This is the other Tina Fey comedy. It’s about a lady (Ellie Kemper) who escaped from a cult. Look, Ellie Kemper is charming, and if anyone can pull this premise off, it’s Fey. But it sounds like a tougher sell.

The Visitors (ABC/Drama) – Yet another alien invader drama executive produced by Steven Spielberg, even though he’s already given us Taken and Falling Skies. Starring Barry Sloane of Revenge, with Milo Ventimiglia and Lily Rabe, this sees aliens going after our kids. Damn aliens!

Oh No

Babylon Fields (NBC/Drama)– The dead rise in a small town, grow strong, and perhaps are the next step in evolution? This was a pilot rejected by CBS way back in 2007, starring Amber Tamblyn and Ray Stevenson. Now it has Skeet Ulrich, so I guess it was just a matter of waiting out Jericho. But zombies are cool again, right!

Untitled CSI Spinoff (CBS/Drama)– It’s about cyber-crime! It stars Patricia Arquette! Everyone still likes CSI, right? Right? Bueller?

Forever (ABC/Drama) – Yet another immortality drama (remember New Amsterdam, starring Jaime Lannister?) This time he’s a medical examiner, so it can be super-procedural. Ioan Gruffudd, Judd Hirsch and Alana de la Garza are the solid-sounding cast, but come on. “Crossing Jordan, but she’s cursed with eternal life” is not a good pitch.

Galavant (ABC/Comedy) – This…musical is about a handsome prince and his quest for revenge against the evil king that stole his bride. What? From The Neighbors creator Dan Fogelman, with Alan Menken doing the music. It shoots in the UK, which is probably a good thing. Timothy Omundson, Joshua Sasse and Vinnie Jones star. Could this be Viva Laughlin: Fairytale Edition?

The Mysteries of Laura (NBC/Drama) – Starring Debra Messing and Laz Alonso, this adaptation of a Spanish series sounds insufferable despite our (waning) affection for Messing. She’s playing a “quirky female homicide detective who juggles high stakes crime as well as her ex-husband and a devilish set of twin boys.” Cashmere Mafia’s Jeff Rake wrote the pilot. McG directed. Watch NBC order this and every other super-generic pilot on their slate starring someone well-known.

NCIS: New Orleans (CBS/Drama) – HEY. STOP IT. Scott Bakula stars. CCH Pounder too. God dammit.

Saint Francis (ABC/Comedy) – Michael Imperioli is a no-nonsense blue-collar cop from Long Island who gets mad about his unwed sister getting pregnant. Oh dear. This show is, I believe, set in the present day, even though it sounds like a plot from Friends’ first season. Who created it? Man Up’s Chris Moynihan? Now I understand.

State of Affairs (NBC/Drama) – It’s “Scandal meets The West Wing,” according to press notes. Isn’t that just what Scandal is? It sounds more like Scandal meets Homeland, starring Katherine Heigl as the president’s CIA briefer. Yeah, this will go well.

The Winklers (ABC/Comedy) – Henry Winkler and Domenick Lombardozzi (The Wire), star in a show…about the Winkler family? Written by Henry’s son, Max Winkler? What exactly is going on here? Co-created with Phil Rosenthal, it’s a multi-camera comedy that follows “an emotionally reserved construction worker who learns about love, life and hugs while unexpectedly living with his over-sharing in-laws.” But they’re the Winkler family.

Untitled Richard LaGravenese Project – Remember that everything Katie Holmes touches turns to garbage. Remember that Richard LaGravenese wrote P.S. I Love You and Beautiful Creatures (among other flops) recently. Yeah, he was hot stuff in the ‘90s, but the ‘90s are over. Plus, this apparently “revolves around the love and rivalry between two equally matched, powerful socialites who play out their obsessive attraction and seduction of each other through their manipulation of others.” Sounds like the worst parts of Gossip Girl and Revenge colliding. Rufus Sewell’s in this one too, poor fellow.

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.