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Stacking the Drama Pilots: A Pilot Inspektor Preview

With the network upfronts scheduled for next week (I cannot wait!), I thought I'd take a look at this year's current crop of pilots, some of which will blossom into full grown series next week. I can honestly say that I have now read every single drama and comedy pilot at every single broadcast and cable network that is up for consideration for the 2007-08 schedule. (It's a demanding job but somebody has to do it.)

Yes, ladies and gentlemen, every single one. From Cashmere Mafia to Marlowe, The Return of Jezebel James to I'm in Hell (a fitting title), no pilot is beneath this Televisionary's piercing gaze. So which drama pilots did I like and what new series do I hope will make it onto their respective networks' schedules? Sit back and find out.

Dirty Sexy Money (ABC): Equally one of my favorite drama pilot scripts this year (save the remarkable Damages, which has been ordered to series at FX), it is a tantalizing combination of Arrested Development and Dynasty, populated by a far-too-wealthy-for-their-own-good family and filled with eccentric characters, hairpin plot twists, and zany soap-ish fun. Plus, it's got an amazing cast in Peter Krause, Donald Sutherland, Jill Clayburgh, William Baldwin (hope someone's watching his voicemail messages), and Samaire Armstrong, among others. I'm really hoping this makes it onto the schedule and, so far, the buzz has been really building.

Journeyman (NBC): A quirky time travel drama that doesn't feel like any other time travel TV series or movie you've ever seen. This is no Quantum Leap, but a deeply personal story about love, loss, and the possibly unwanted ability to find a second chance. Deftly blending sci fi, drama, romance, this pilot has a fantastic lead in Kevin McKidd (Rome) and more than a few twists up its sleeve. Very intriguing and the rare male-driven drama that has female appeal, to boot.

Pushing Daisies (ABC): Takes home the prize for most original and quirky drama this season. Written by the uber-talented Bryan Fuller (Wonderfalls, Heroes), it's the story of a man (Wonderfalls' Lee Pace) with the ability to bring people back from the dead, but there's a painful price to this dark gift (naturally). Instead of falling into self-loathing, he opens a pie shop and works with a detective to scam money from unsolved murders by reviving and then questioning the victims... until he encounters a corpse he recognizes belonging to his one lost childhood love (Anna Friel). Brilliant, moving, and funny (look for Swoozie Kurtz as a shotgun-toting aunt), it's groundbreaking and original and probably too good for American television. Buzz has been building as the pilot turned out much better than the nay-sayers thought.

Chuck (NBC): Imagine if The O.C.'s Seth Cohen grows up into an even more geeky 20-something slacker, accidentally downloads the entire NSA database into his brain and is coerced into helping the intelligence agencies into providing analysis of the raw data... while still not being able to get a date with the girl next door. It's Chuck, a charming action-dramedy from The O.C. creator Josh Schwartz, which might just be my next guilty pleasure.

Fort Pit (NBC): A darkly mordant Hill Street Blues for the new millennium filled with unlikable characters that you can't take your eyes off of and an atmosphere bristling with energy and rawness.

Los Duques (CBS): A gripping and soapy drama about a family-controlled rum empire and the feud between the titular characters and a takeover-savvy rival clan (including Rome's Polly Walker as an untrustworthy femme fatale). It's a fun, compulsive read with unexpected plot twists, including a very risky endgame reveal that changes your perceptions of Jimmy Smits' family man. Expect the name of this pilot, written by Cynthia Cidre, to change if ordered to series.

Big Shots (ABC): The pilot that has undergone more name changes than any other the past few months (some still call it the Untitled Jon Harmon Feldman pilot), but it's a male-driven Desperate Housewives, populated by way too wealthy CEOs shouldering too much responsibility with multi-billion dollar companies, demanding wives and mistresses, and secrets galore.

Bionic Woman (NBC): The latest script draft, rewritten by Kidnapped creator Jason Smilovic, pushed this up my list. It's a risky proposition, re-imagining classic 70s action drama The Bionic Woman but this redo, overseen by BSG's David Eick, puts a dark, contemporary spin on the bionically-enhanced Jamie Sommers (EastEnders' Michelle Ryan), forced to care for her prickly younger sister (Arrested Development's Mae Whitman) who finds herself enlisted in a secret war between the government and others like her. Look for BSG's Katee Sackhoff to potentially steal the show as Sarah Corvus. Gee, what could she want from our girl Jamie? I'm particularly intrigued to see the finished pilot, which will either be brilliant fun or a soggy, overwrought mess, but I am leaning towards the former, which would make it a perfect 10 pm companion to Heroes.

Sarah Connor Chronicles (FOX): Fight the future. A huge-budget household name franchise taken in a completely different direction, it's a fiercely riveting action adventure following Sarah Connor (Lena Headey), a woman with the ferocity of a wounded mama bear, protecting her 15-year-old son John Connor (Thomas Dekker), who might just be humanity's last chance at surviving the coming war. Look for Summer Glau and Owain Yeoman to turn up as the Connors attempt to take down Skynet in the hopes of averting the global catastrophe in the future.

Winters (NBC): It's not just a drama about a female cop from the fertile minds of Peter Blake and David Shore (House); it's an addictive guessing game of a pilot script with one of TV's most unreliable narrators. Christie Winters (Famke Janssen) isn't your every day cop: she's better dressed, sexier, and, oh, a compulsive liar in this captivating police procedural. Watch as she solves crimes, makes enemies, gets saddled with a new partner (Dorian Missick), attempts dating, and evades internal affairs. Is she a crooked cop or just a lying cop with a penchant for uncovering the truth?

Those are my favorite drama pilots, anyway. There are a bunch that I think are really good, solid dramas (like NBC's Lipstick Jungle), but you get the idea. Which drama pilots are you most excited about? And which ones make you want to throw your television out the window (that would be New Amsterdam, Babylon Fields, and Twilight for me)?

In the meantime, be sure to come back tomorrow to see my comedy pilot picks.


The CineManiac said…
First off I love the use of Jason Lee's Son's Name in the title (Yes Jason Lee has a son named Pilot Inspektor, it's awful)
Second thanks for the insight. I have to say before I started watching BSG in March I was not excited about Bionic Woman at all, but now I'll be honest, I can't wait! (Anything with the wonderful Katee Sackhoff will have me drooling in anticipation)
I have to say from your list they all sound intriguing (with the exception of Big Shots, who needs another Desperate Housewives, even if it is for Men) But the two most intriguing sound like Journeyman and Pushing Daises. I love that more and more mainstream tv is having some form of Sci-Fi in it. Everyone always makes fun of Genre material, but if you look at the top 20 movies of all time, most of them are Sci-Fi, so why shouldn't TV follow suit?
Can't wait to hear your thoughts on the comedies.
Jennifer said…
Pushing Daisies sounds awesome but quirky and network TV don't ever really mix.

Chuck kind of sounds like Jake 2.0?

Is the title of your post a reference to Jason Lee's weirdly-named son?
Out of all of these "Pushing Daisies" sounds the most interesting to me. (I was a huge "Wonderfalls" fan!) But, as Jennifer said, it's doubtful that an off-beat show such as this will make it very far in today's TV world. Sigh.

"Bionic Woman" and "Sarah Connor" could either be really good or truly horrible. But I'll at least check out the first episodes if they get picked up.

One thing is for sure, the dramas this year definitely seem more interesting than last season!
Jace Lacob said…
Yes, the name Pilot Inspektor is in fact directly related to Jason Lee's peculiarly-named son. I christened advanced pilot reviews with the moniker last Spring:
LB said…
Thanks for the rundown, Jace. I've been trying to find someone with more information than creators/cast/logline on the pilots for weeks. Thanks for filling the void; I'll be back tomorrow for the comedies.
Anonymous said…
Gossip Girl and Reaper for CW have my interest right now. NBC and CBS have nothing that really appeals to me this year and FOX is just not worth watching anything on until it is renewed for a second season.
Vance said…
OH NO! I avoided pilot talk because I didn't want to get excited by the pilots this year, then get let down if the networks didn't pick them up, but Pushing Daisies sounds really cool and I'll show up for anything that Kevin McKidd turns up in as well.

I must say though, props to ABC for going for a more creative route even though sometimes it doesn't quite work out for them.
Anonymous said…
Seems we are fairly in sync here. I haven't read them all, but you have my 3 favorites listed here -

Pushing Daisies, Dirty Sexy Money and Los Duques. I think DSM is going to be a breakout. The cast is stellar and it's juicy and fun. You mention AD and Dynasty, I'd also say there's a little Royal Tennenbaums in there. Pushing Daisies - after I read, I said, "Love it, but it will never get on the air." Yesterday I read that ABC has asked the show to start staffing. Eeeenteresting...
And Los Duques was just so smart and intense. Great cast.

I also enjoyed the read of Gossip Girl. There was a lot of been-there-done-that, but it was a fun read. If executed well, I think it could be a tv version of Mean Girls.

And the Jon Feldman script was a good read, but between that and DSM, I'd definitely prefer the former to get on the air.

I really enjoyed the Viva Laughlin read. I've never seen the British, so it stood on its own for me.

I didn't care for any of the strong-women-who-think-being-bitchy-and-shallow-is-being-complicated pilots (see: Cashmere Mafia, Lipstick Jungle, Women's Murder Club). I found them to be very similar to one another, and vaguely misogynistic at times.

I can't really think of any others that stood out to me, but I didn't read them all.
Jace Lacob said…

I didn't care for Viva Laughlin at all and I am a huge fan of "Blackpool" (the BBC original), but it just seemed like a rewarmed, rehashed version of that but a hell of a lot more toothless.

As for Gossip Girl, I thought it was fair but perfectly poised for the CW crowd. I could see it replacing Gilmore Girls on Tuesdays at 8 pm.

And, yes, some definite Royal Tennenbaums influence in Dirty Sexy Money.

Plus, Pushing Daisies IS staffing, true. I loved the script too but wondered if ABC would take a risk and pick it up. Pleasantly surprised, after all.
Gotta Kielbasa said…
Two pilots I've read and liked that you didn't mention are Swingtown (drama) and The Middle (comedy). But I have low expectations for them getting picked up.

Look forward to your comedy reviews tomorrow!
Jace Lacob said…

I didn't care for Swingtown at all and didn't see it working as a network series (there's every indication that it could shift over to Showtime, in fact, which would be a much better home for it.)

As for The Middle, it's definitely one of my top comedy picks to be discussed tomorrow.
Todd said…
I haven't read anything (and won't have the time), so I'll just link to you tonight.

That said, I'm glad to see many of my favorites making your list -- especially Daisies, Journeyman and DSM. I'm REALLY iffy on Bionic -- it could be great or a complete mess.

But I did rather like Babylon Fields, all things considered. So we don't share a hive mind just yet.

Looking forward to your comedy thoughts. I've read far fewer of those.
Anonymous said…
Great Pilot Roundup Televisionary.

Having just completed KIDNAPPED on DVD, I'll definitely be rooting for Jason Smilovic's Bionic Woman to get picked-up.
Anonymous said…
They will all be put on Hiatus after 2 episodes until according to the networks a better time timeslot becomes available

By then we will be hooked ie Drive, Men in Trees

Hallowed Are The Ori!
eAi said…
No thoughts on "Company Man"?
jojoko said…
is journeyman supposed to be the american adaptation for life on mars? you didn't describe it in much detail but i remember you saying that there would be an american version.
Jace Lacob said…

David E. Kelley's US adaptation of BBC series "Life on Mars" has been rolled over to midseason or next season. No pilot has been shot and it is not under consideration for the fall schedule. "Journeyman" is a different series but has no connection to "Life on Mars."

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