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Dancing with the Upfronts: Likely Series Contenders at ABC, CBS, FOX, and CW

This has been an odd development season, to say the least.

While networks claim to be moving towards year-round development, it's put an odd crimp into this season, which struggled through the writers strike and truncated the time necessary to develop and produce a whole slew of pilots for network and cable, many of which will now be shot this summer... after the network upfront presentations next week. Which means that while the broadcasters will announce their fall schedules--which stand to include quite a few familiar faces along with a few new, high-profile projects--look for them to be deliberately coy about plans for midseason as they'll likely wait to make decisions about midseason pickups until late summer when these late pilot orders will be completed.

So, other than NBC (which made their announcements about fall, winter, and next summer already, ordering most projects to series directly from the script stage), what can we anticipate will end up on the networks then? Let's take a look.

ABC: The Alphabet will likely only be ordering just a few series next week. Chalk this up to the fact that most of their pilots won't shoot until "Phase 2" (or June/July) and they have the most returning series out of any other broadcaster and will be relaunching freshman dramas Pushing Daisies, Dirty Sexy Money, and Private Practice (which wrapped their seasons in light of the strike) this fall. Which leaves only a few timeslots to fill. The main contender is Life on Mars, David E. Kelley's US remake of the brilliant hit BBC drama... that is if the network can reach a deal with Kelley for the series, which may be co-produced by 20th Century Fox Television and ABC Television. Kelley may not even stick around post-pilot either; the net is supposedly in talks with October Road creators Josh Appelbaum, Andre Nemec and Scott Rosenberg to join the project as executive producers, a move which makes me even less likely to want to tune in.

FOX: The main players here are high-profile, with J.J. Abrams-executive produced sci-fi drama Fringe (starring Joshua Jackson) and Joss Whedon's brilliantly evocative Dollhouse set to earn series stripes. There's been debate about when Dollhouse will launch, with rumors flying that it will either kick off in August (where FOX launched The OC a few years back) or possibly in midseason. I'd prefer the former rather than the latter, as I want my Dollhouse fix now. Plus, FOX could get a jump on their competitors by launching early (and not running into the continual problem of baseball playoffs). Fringe, meanwhile, would make a good companion for the already-renewed Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles. Look for comedy Starting Under--starring Bernie Mac--to turn up on the sked, joined by returnees Back to You and 'Til Death. Also likely series orders: US adaptations of UK comedies Outnumbered and Spaced (hiss!), the second of which I'd rather see die a fiery death (the script was quite possibly one of the worst this year) than tarnish the name of that brilliant creation of Simon Pegg, Jessica Stevenson, and Edgar Wright.

CBS: Look for procedurals, procedurals, and more procedurals on the Eye's schedule, rather than the musical murder mysteries, Latina rum barons, or suburban swingers that populated last season's upfront presentations. CBS has wisely learned that they went a little too far out of the box last year with things like Viva Laughlin, Cane, and Swingtown and this year's development slate was a return to more familiar ground with things like The Mentalist (a tarnished mentalist--read: fake psychic--helps police solve crimes with his powers of observation), which I found to be a real yawner; the untitled Geena Davis drama (formerly known as Exit 19) about a Long Island single mom/cop who deals with her unruly family while solving crimes and leaving Post-Its everywhere) from Jeffrey Bell (Angel); female romantic dramedy Mythological Ex--about a woman who is told by a psychic that she's already met the man of her dreams and sets out to revisit each of her ex-boyfriends in turn--from Veronica Mars scribe Diane Ruggiero; and Jerry Bruckheimer-executive produced Eleventh Hour, yet another US adaptation of a UK skein. The latter is definitely the most interesting of the four, offering a gripping science-based thriller series with procedural mysteries of the week, intriguing characters in diametrically opposed partners Jacob Hood and Rachel, and a good cast in series leads Rufus Sewell and Marley Shelton.

CW: Over at the CW, they only have three drama pilots to choose from this year, so look for at least two to make it onto the network this fall. Virtually considered a lock is the Beverly Hills 90210 spinoff (which has Arrested Development's Jessica Walters as lady luck), a likely timeslot companion for Gossip Girl on Mondays, offering teens the opportunity to watch two sets of spoiled kids on either coast back-to-back. The other two pilots are harder to read, with fellow adapted-from-an-Alloy-novel-series How to Teach Filthy Rich Girls seeming a more likely order over the real-time Grey's Anatomy-lite Austin Golden Hour, about ER doctors and paramedics in the crucial one hour after a trauma. Then again, both could end up on the schedule, with it likely that one might be held until midseason.

What do you think? Which series are you most excited about and which do you hope won't make it to series? If you were running these networks, what changes would you make to the schedules?


Katie said…
I'm definitely most excited about Dollhouse. It has been too long since Joss had a show on TV.

I hope Life on Mars crashes and burns but not so bad that people are afraid to watch the original. Why, why do they think they can remake this gem even close to the brilliance of the original?
kilmoonie said…
You didn't mention Good Behavior in your ABC section. Is it because it is more likely as a mid-season replacement?

Jace Lacob said…
Hi Jamie,

Good Behavior won't be shot until this summer (looks like a May 20th start), so it likely won't be mentioned at the upfront as execs will likely wait to see the completed pilot before making a decision.
Anonymous said…
Dollhouse and Fringe easily look the most intriguing premises, and if your enthusiasm for the pilot scripts is anything to go by, should deliver. Amusingly, Dollhouse scores 6.8 after 125 votes on, Fringe rates as a superb 9.8!

Very modest, but Outnumbered in the UK was a little gem, thanks in no small part to the triumvirate of bright, cheeky little kids. Their charismatic performances will be hard to reproduce, not least because a friend who worked on the show tells me much of their dialogue was ad-libbed.
Unknown said…
Hey Jace!

Thanks for the rundown.

From that crop I'm most excited about FRINGE. I read the script and it's great and Josh Jackson is so well cast that I actually felt like the role was written specifically for him. (It wasn't, right?) And it fits in perfectly with FOX's current "high action, high concept" image. Maybe it will be the show that finally fills the void X-files left.

Has anyone you know read MYTHOLOGICAL X? I like Diane's writing and the concept is intriguing but I'm still not sure about it.

I am also excited about ABC's midseason. I know they've had casting difficulties but I am really looking forward to GOOD BEHAVIOR and curious to see the updated CUPID. (I've read both scripts and the former is near perfect and the latter is solid.)
Jace Lacob said…
Hi Kelley,

Nope, Jackson's part in "Fringe" was definitely not written with him in mind. When I read the script last year, I initially pictured someone slightly older though I think he'll be fantastic in this.

As for "Mythological Ex," yep, I've read the script. (As of last week, I had read EVERY SINGLE drama and comedy pilot script out there.) While I love Diane Ruggiero, this script just left me cold...

"Good Behavior" meanwhile is definitely towards the top of my list. Did you read my review of the script from a few weeks ago?
Definitely most excited about Dollhouse and I hope they don't hold it until mid-season. I'm also really looking forward to Fringe. But, mostly, I'll just be happy to see shows like Pushing Daisies, Chuck, and Dirty Sexy Money return since their time was cut short by the strike.
Anonymous said…
I'm definitely the most excited for DOLLHOUSE. Joss simply is one of the best television writers out there and it sounds so interesting and full of good ideas that there is no way around it.

I'm a bit sceptic about "Fringe", probably because I can't really picture the show yet, despite your glowing review of the pilot script. But I'll definitely tune in and check it out once it airs. I still miss ALIAS, but JJ probably doesn't have a lot to do with the script of "Fringe".

On ABC there are only two potential pilots that sparked my interest: "Good Behavior" sounds interesting and crazy, while "Captain Cook's Extraordinary Atlas" sounds definitely odd and refreshing enough to at least keep me interested.

Apart from that, I am only interested in HBOs "True Blood", which will premiere this fall, as we know.
NV said…
The preview was interesting. I haven't decided what I'd like to see yet.

I do have a question, if I may ask it. Do you happen to know anything about the CBS pilots The Tower or Can Openers? I read where both were in contention for pickup.
Anonymous said…
Btw, Jace, do you know anything of "Generation Kill" on HBO? As a fan of the Wire I'm looking forward to whatever Simon and Burns come up with next.

Mini-series is not something you normally cover (although I know that doesn't mean you don't like them: State of Play), but is there anything else interesting in the pipeline that you know of? And what's the deal with the 7-part order for Dollhouse?
Anonymous said…
Some rumors seemed to suggest CBS was looking to try and establish a second night of comedy. There are by far the only real network still doing comedies in a serious way. If this is true they should be looking to pickup some new comedies, since even though they currently have five that are fairly strong that would not be enough.

Life on Mars may be passed over by ABC. From what I have read it does not seem to appeal to the same female demographic that most of their other shows target. Also keep in mind Scrubs has to slot somewhere into the CBS schedule.

The one I am trying to figure out is what is happening with comedies over at CW. It was announced the Everybody Hates Chris is returning and Girlfirends is ending. Speculation is that Aliens in America is ending too, leaving only The Game or something new if they are pairing Chris with a comedy. Alternatively they could be planning to air double episodes. It would be interesting to hear your take on this one.
Jace Lacob said…
Hi CoryB,

Scrubs is moving to ABC, not CBS, so the Eye won't have a problem slotting it as they don't have the series! ;)

As for Life on Mars, it will be on ABC this fall and I'm 99% sure it will get a 13 episode order next week. Whether or not David E. Kelley will be on board is anyone's guess at this time.

Over at the CW, "Chris" will be paired with "The Game." "Aliens in America" is as dead as a dodo. Look for Chris/Game to be paired together as the sole 1-hr of comedy (other than the pre-buy MRC block on Sundays) on... Fridays, maybe. CW did used to use that night for comedy back when it was WB and it would be a good night to go after families, etc. that aren't being served by the Big Four.

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