Networks are readying a battery of drama pilots with protagonists who can time-travel, cast spells, live forever, exorcise demons and resurrect the dead—all while settling most of their problems in under an hour.
The broadcast networks, even though they have been repeatedly burned by taking chances on serialized programming, are still eager to rope in the devoted youthful demographics enjoyed by last fall’s breakout hit “Heroes” and have stockpiled a few shows with sci-fi or fantastical elements.
“I think there’s an openness to explore characters in a world that’s a little off,” said Katherine Pope, executive VP, NBC Entertainment.
At the same time, programmers are encouraging showrunners to deliver programs with relatively self-contained episodes to allow viewers late entry into a series.
For NBC, that means the potential “Heroes” companion “The Bionic Woman,” the time-travel drama “Journeyman” and the unlikely superhero story of a computer geek named “Chuck.”
Fox brings “The Terminator” to TV with “Sarah Connor Chronicles”; offers comic book adaptation “Them,” about extraterrestrial espionage; and plans “New Amsterdam,” about an immortal homicide detective.
The CW has ordered an untitled pilot about a “life coach/witch” and another called “Reaper,” about a slacker who becomes the Devil’s bounty hunter.
Even CBS, which dipped a toe into such territory this fall with “Jericho,” is diving headlong into cult-appeal programming with “Babylon Fields” (zombies), “Twilight” (vampires) and “Demons” (guess).
Just don’t call the shows “sci-fi,” a term programmers dislike as it sounds male and niche-oriented. Even the creators of “Lost,” which helped re-awaken the genre on television three seasons ago, shied away from the term during the show’s first year.
“They’re ‘high-concept’ shows,” insisted Craig Erwich, executive VP of programming at Fox. “We probably have some bigger swings and higher concepts this year … and some more signature female characters.”
ABC is also exploring high-concept territory with “Pushing Daisies” (a detective who can resurrect the dead) and “Eli Stone” (a lawyer who thinks he might be a prophet).
But ABC, which has 13 drama pilots in development—more than any other broadcaster—is primarily focused on soaps following the success of “Grey’s Anatomy.” Its drama slate includes a U.S. version of the BBC hit “Footballers Wives” and “Cashmere Mafia,” about a group of high-powered businesswomen that will likely be compared to NBC’s similar Candace Bushnell project “Lipstick Jungle.”
“Their descriptions are a little similar but their souls are very different,” said Suzanne Patmore-Gibbs, senior VP of development at ABC.
Aside from seeking non-serialized content where viewers get a “close-ended sense of satisfaction and don’t have to do an enormous amount of homework,” ABC was looking for a diverse array of pilots that could provide plenty of options for fall.
Its most anticipated pilot, however, isn’t officially a pilot. The planned “Grey’s Anatomy” spinoff staring Kate Walsh will launch with an “enhanced” two-hour “Grey’s” episode in May. Beyond that, details are a closely guarded secret.
NBC has one title creating considerable early online buzz: “Bionic Woman.” Early publicity can be a mixed bag, which NBC found last fall with a crushing amount of critical scrutiny about “Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip.” Other times, as with ABC’s “Desperate Housewives,” early interest results in quick success.
“There’s a lot a pressure on that one,” said Ms. Pope. “In this particular case, certainly the women at this company feel an enormous amount of pressure for ‘Bionic Woman’ to reflect the female experience—for it to be about embracing your power, embracing your responsibilities.”
At The CW, the fall represents the network’s first full-fledged original slate. With stakes this high, Executive VP of Drama Development Thom Sherman was very specific about what the network wants.
“We’re very strict about doing shows that we think will appeal to an 18-to-34 audience,” he said. “Slightly female skewing and with a lightness in tone. We wanted shows that felt broadly entertaining and have a positive spirit to it and were not too dark.”
For a Full List of Network Drama Pilots Click Below