Every year, networks pick about 100 scripts to be made into first episodes or “pilots” for potential TV series. Of those, about a third to half get picked up to series, and that’s not even counting those that won’t see a second season. The rest…sort of fade away.
Having already taken a look at some of this fall’s most intriguing pickups, I decided to take a look at 10 shows that didn’t make the cut. My opinion is based, for the most part, on scripts for these I read that do not represent the final product once things like actual actors and directors get involved, but should not be taken as actual reviews of the pilots. In some cases, I can see why they won’t be on the air…and in others, there’s a few shows I’d have really liked to see.
10. NCIS: RED (CBS): CBS has the most prime Prime Time real estate on TV right now, to the point that they don’t even have room for more versions of their existing hits. That’s why you won’t get to see Kim Raver as “Special Agent Paris Summerskill,” which is THE MOST SECRET AGENT NAME EVER. To completely trace the genealogy of this series: First there was “J.A.G.,” which spun off “NCIS,” which spun off “NCIS: Los Angeles,” which would have spun off this. Had it been picked up to series, it would have been a J.A.G.-off of a J.A.G.-off of a J.A.G.-off, which is literally the cheapest joke I could have possibly made here.
9. BLOODLINES (NBC): This “Kill Bill” with teens was announced as dead early during pick-ups, which is a shame because I was at least curious to see what the pilot looked like. The script was one of the most utterly insane things I’ve ever read for TV, starting with two families descended from the Spartans and Shaolin Monks, respectively, getting into a bloodbath at a botched wedding…and that’s not counting the use of Ace of Base’s “The Sign” over the discovery of a fateful infant, a bit where mind power is used to REDUCE A BRICK TO DUST, and that Peter Berg of “Battleship” was directing the whole thing. It wasn’t a masterpiece by any means, but it went for it!
8. BLINK (The CW): The definition of “off-brand,” this pilot about a dad in a coma (I know, I know, it’s serious), who can still hear his family speaking to him and “respond” in fantasy sequences was a hard sell, but also had an opportunity to be something quirkier and more character-oriented than the slate of SF/fantasy shows with 25-year-old teenagers that will dominate the netlet this fall. Even if it didn’t work out, it’s always good to try new things.
7. BIG THUNDER (ABC): How to keep that “Pirates of the Caribbean” mojo going? Why, create a TV series based on the famous Disney roller-coaster! An oddball throwback to the family shows of the 1990s (I’m thinking “Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman” and SF stuff like “Earth 2”), this tale of an 1800s family that moves to a small development with all sorts of supernatural secrets wasn’t a bad idea, but had already used up the recreation of the ride by the end of the pilot. This is something that could work with some retooling in future seasons.
6. BRENDA FOREVER (NBC): Was disappointed but not surprised to see this vehicle for “The Office” co-star Ellie Kemper not get picked up. Chronicling parallel stories of a woman at ages 13 and 31, it was in some ways a mixture of “The Wonder Years” and “Sex in the City” (the pilot involved tales of a boy-girl party and an attempted threesome). A bit darker and edgier than its premise suggested, it’s the kind of material Kemper does well (sunny-yet-crazy), but there’s a 100 percent chance that she’ll find another project that’ll launch her to superstardom soon. NBC also passed on a potentially-intriguing series with red-hot comedian John Mulaney that would have co-starred Elliott Gould and Martin Short. If he finds a hit vehicle soon, that loss is on them.
5. DELIRIUM (Fox): It’s a poorly-kept secret that YA novels are often developed with film/TV series in mind (and in many cases, have ghost-writers handling most of the series off plots from the “official” author). This adaptation of the dystopian SF series from Lauren Oliver (who to my understanding, does write her own books) about a future where love is chemically “cured” would have starred Emma Roberts as a teen who realizes that hormones can be kind of awesome. An intriguing high concept, but despite some efforts to open up the story, it still read like something that would work better as a film than as an ongoing series. On a similar note, The CW passed on a series based on the YA novel “The Selection,” after passing on a different version the previous year, then going with a new one from a massively rewritten/recast script. That one fought til the bitter end!
4. GOTHICA (ABC): “Hey, ’Once Upon a Time’ is a hit. Let’s do something just like it, only more adult and with classic monsters! And they’re sexy!” Featuring the likes of Dracula, Frankenstein, Jekyll and Hyde, and even Dorian Gray, it wasn’t a bad idea, but it didn’t quite gel, playing more like the film of “The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen” (not a compliment). ABC instead picked up an actual spinoff of “Once Upon a Time” set in Wonderland that looks surprisingly promising. On a weird, related note, NBC had a pilot script for a “Wonderland” series that is being produced outside of the normal pilot production cycle. Once again: No new ideas!
3. BOOMERANG (Fox): “Assassins in Suburbia” must have been the elevator pitch for this action-comedy that would have starred Felicity Huffman as the matriarch of a family of government killers. Though presented with a wink and some excellent action sequences, the premise might have been too dark for Fox, even with “The Following” somehow bringing in the big ratings.
2. SUPER CLYDE (CBS): “Raising Hope” creator Greg Garcia went back to the well of his previous series “My Name is Earl” for this vehicle for “Harry Potter” co-star Rupert Grint as a naive, impoverished innocent who inherits a fortune and uses it to try to do good deeds in secret. The script was rather sweet, and indicated portions of the show would use limited comic-book-like animations for flashbacks/exposition. Don’t weep for Garcia, though — his other, more traditional pilot “The Millers” got picked up by CBS. It looks horrible.
1. THE SIXTH GUN (NBC): NBC picked up a number of SF/fantasy/thriller shows, but it’s a shame this adaptation of the Oni Press comic book series about a collection of cursed guns in the Wild West didn’t become a companion to the (rapidly-declining) “Revolution.” Rather than rehash the plot, I’ll just let you know that you can read the first issue of the series for absolutely free, and get a taste of what you might have missed.
As a great man once said, “If that’s what they cut out, what they leave in must be pure gold!” We’ll be curious to see if any of these shows get a second chance somewhere…or if the new shows this fall will prove any better than what didn’t get on the air.