Early Pilot Buzz: What’s Heating Up for the 2017-2018 TV Season?

Lucy Hale Stephen Moyer Josh Radner
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With Upfronts still more than two weeks away, it’s still early in the decision-making process, but as the current broadcast season winds down, television executives are beginning to form opinions on the pilots in contention for their network’s 2017-2018 slate.

As always, a handful of projects are rising as early frontrunners, while others have not impressed with their first cuts and are in need of re-shoots and re-tooling. No stark trends have emerged across the broadcast networks, though there are a number of military-themed dramas, many female-led comedies and lighter one-hours in the works. In contrast to the past few pilot seasons, reboots are not as hot this year, though there are a few, such as the CW’s “Dynasty,” “S.W.A.T.” at CBS and “What About Barb” at NBC.

Of course, television executives and writers are all on edge with a possible WGA strike on the horizon, but moving forward with pilot season as usual, here’s what Variety‘s insiders are saying.

ABC

ABC is looking for an office comedy and is focused on “lighter and brighter” programming, given the heavy political divide away from TV screens.

Some early favorites that fall into the office comedy space are Zach Braff’s “Start-Up” and the City Mayor Project that hails from “Hamilton” star Daveed Diggs, which are both heating up. As for family sitcoms, “Raised By Wolves” certainly has a chance with the pedigree of Diablo Cody and Greg Berlanti, and the taping for Carol Burnett’s “Household Name” was “magical,” as described by one of our insiders. Kenya Barris’ political pundit laffer “Libby and Malcolm,” starring Felicity Huffman and Courtney B. Vance, which was the first pilot to be ordered across the broadcast networks, did not come in as well as the network would have liked, according to sources, especially with such high expectations, but the network is high on the caliber of stars attached. As for other comedies, “Charlie Foxtrot,” starring Jason Biggs, is also in the mix.

Barris’ other pilot in contention, “Unit Zero,” starring Toni Collette, isn’t as buzzy and insiders say the tone of the project has been tough to nail down, but executives do like that it’s a lighter one-hour. As for the other project hailing from Barris — the “Black-ish” spinoff — time will tell, given that the backdoor pilot airs this spring. The offshoot follows Zoe (Yara Shahidi) to college; should the spinoff be greenlit, the idea would be for “Black-ish” to incorporate the college storyline this fall so that the potential series could then bow midseason.

On the drama side, ABC is looking for a procedural, and there will be no shortage of Shondaland shows. With “Scandal,” “Grey’s Anatomy” and “How To Get Away With Murder” already renewed, “Still Star-Crossed” on the way and “The Catch” on the bubble, the network may have to split up the TGIT block since insiders say the legal drama from “Scandal” writer Paul William Davies is hot on ABC’s radar. Other dramas in contention are “The Crossing,” “Las Reinas” and “Good Doctor.”

CBS

On the comedy side, the network is said to have two slots open, since they’ve already ordered “The Big Bang Theory” spinoff “Sheldon” to series, filling one of their sitcom spots.

“Brothered Up” — the buddy cop comedy that centers around an African-American cop (D.L. Hughley) and Pakistani cop (Adhir Kalyan) — is high on the comedy radar at CBS. Despite coming in late, given that one of the lead roles was re-cast with Hughley, the pilot tested “through the roof,” says a source. Plus, the diverse cast would be a nice fit on the network’s slate, after CBS has been criticized for lacking diversity. Other comedies in the mix are “Hannah Royce’s Questionable Choices” from producer Aaron Kaplan, ““9J, 9K, and 9L,” which apparently “blew everyone away on tape night,” says a source, plus “Me, Myself and I.” Insiders say star Bobby Moynihan is hilarious in the role, but the project about a man’s life in three different stages is complex, given the decade-jumps.

On the drama side, the network apparently has four slots for new series, and it looks like one of those shows will be in the military genre. The “S.W.A.T.” reboot is very hot, and being headlined by CBS fan-favorite Shemar Moore surely helps the pilot’s chances. The Navy SEAL pilot from producers Sarah Timberman and Carl Beverly also has a shot, though sources caution only one of the two military projects would be greenlit; not both.

Other hot dramas are “Wisdom of the Crowd” from “The Good Wife” alum Ted Humphrey, which tested high, and Noah Wyle’s “Perfect Citizen,” which is heating up.

NBC

NBC’s buzzy comedies thus far are a who’s-who of sitcom A-listers, both in front of and behind the camera. Sources say that “The Sackett Sisters” from Tina Fey and Robert Carlock, starring Casey Wilson, Busy Philipps and Bradley Whitford, is heating up, but given Fey and Carlock’s involvement, the pilot’s future could depend on the success of “Great News,” which just premiered with solid ratings this week. The sitcom from Seth Meyers and “SNL” alum Mike O’Brien is also heating up, as is Bill Lawrence’s “Spaced Out,” the remake of “What About Barb” starring Leah Remini,” plus the comedy from Charlie Grandy and Mindy Kaling, which is toplined by Anders Holm and will feature Kaling in a recurring role. Surprisingly, Kourtney Kang‘s comedy did not test well, according to insiders.

On the drama side, NBC has perhaps the strongest lock of pilot season in “Rise,” Jason Katims’ high school drama department series with Josh Radnor, which is already making staffing offers for its writers room, per sources. Military hero drama “For God and Country” is also already said to be making firm staffing offers. Another drama in consideration is the virtual reality thriller “Reverie,” though people familiar with the project say the cut did not come in great and had to be retooled a bit, but the script is very strong. “Good Girls” from Shondaland alum Jenna Bans is also heating up.

FOX

Fox, which already gave a straight-to-series order to Seth MacFarlane’s sci-fi “Orville,” is said to be looking for additional comedies. Among the hot projects are the paranormal laffer “Ghosted,” starring Adam Scott and Craig Robinson, Lauren Graham’s “Linda From HR” and “LA>Vegas,” which hails from executive producers Will Ferrell and “Modern Family’s” Steve Levitan. Eva Longoria’s “Type A” is also heating up. Per our sources, “Thin Ice” from “New Girl” creator Liz Meriwether is not top of the crop, at this time.

Matt Nix’s Marvel pilot, which was directed by Bryan Singer, is said to be a lock with a source saying, it’s “definitely going.” Fox also has its eye on medical drama “The Resident” and “Controversy,” the drama about sexual assault on college campuses, which is being described as feeling more like a cable show than broadcast. Ridley Scott’s vampire thriller “The Passage” does not shoot until June, so if it went forward for the 2017-2018 season, it would have a shorter episode order.

CW

Per usual, the CW has three to four slots for new series, according to sources, who say you can bet on the young-skewing network to greenlight another superhero show: “Black Lightning,” which was originally developed at Fox before it moved to CW, is solid.

The shows with the best chance of being ordered are the reboot of “Dynasty” and “Life Sentence,” starring “Pretty Little Liars” star Lucy Hale. Both shows seem to be a lock, says an insider.

Army drama “Valor” also turned out well and has a good chance to go, as does Debby Ryan’s “Insatiable,” but per a source, Jason Rothenberg and Berlanti’s “Searchers” is not very high on CW’s radar.

For more pilot buzz updates, check Variety.com in the days leading up to Upfronts.

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  1. jenna says:

    I had high hopes for Mission Control, but Poppy whatsherface can’t act, she ruins the whole pilot for me. Same with Reverie – the lead’s acting is just bad. I’m glad that there are a lot of pilots with female leads but why can’t Networks hire really talented actors for the job, not just pretty faces?

    • Coleen says:

      I think you’re overreacting a bit. Even if you’re right about the leads, both MC and Reverie have a strong supporting female cast overall.
      And you’re wrong about the networks in general, most of the new shows’ leading ladies are wonderful. Look at ABC’s The Crossing, or FOX’s Gifted and Controversy or some of female led comedy pilots. There are some great actors.
      Don’t be so dramatic, Jenna. ;)

  2. George Lewis says:

    Hello network executives & ad agencies. After careful review from many sources, here are the pilots I’d potentially like to see ordered to series (list doesn’t include pilots already ordered to series):
    ABC (8): THE CROSSING, DECEPTION, DOOMSDAY, LAS REINAS, UNIT ZERO, SALAMANDER, untitled Marc Cherry, untitled Paul Davies.
    CBS (5): INSTINCT, MISSION CONTROL – Poppy Montgomery, PERFECT CITIZEN, FOUR STARS, WISDOM OF THE CROWD.
    CW (2): DYNASTY, SEARCHERS.
    FOX (2): THIN ICE, BEHIND ENEMY LINES.
    FX (1): SINGULARITY.
    NBC (4): REVERIE, UNIDENTIFIED, REDLINERS, FOR GOD & COUNTRY. Also, what’s happened to LAW & ORDER YOU THE JURY that was supposed to be mid-season, & XENA?
    SYFY (3): KRYPTON, BRAVE NEW WORLD, THE MACHINE.
    TNT (2): DEADLIER THAN THE MALE, SNOWPIERCER.

    • k says:

      Nice job, dude. Now almost none of those pilots have a chance. You don’t just say things like that to the network executives & ad agencies, unless you have some influence and can offer something in return. It’s a business, man.

      • George Lewis says:

        Hello “k”. If you tune in for the results, you’ll find some to many of above will be ordered to series (too bad I can’t make a collectable wager with you). Contrary to what you said, they do want to know if people find their premises interesting or not. Yes of course it’s a business. Sorry, but you don’t make sense.

  3. nerdrage says:

    “….given the heavy political divide away from TV screens.”

    An acknowledgement that broadcast has disproportionately lost the blue state viewers? I wouldn’t be surprised. They’re all watching Netflix and Amazon now.

  4. Spock says:

    If Fox’s X-Men pilot is “definitely going”, I’m happy. It has Amy Acker, Matt Nix as a show-runner(loved Burn Notice), Stan Lee’s cameo, some cool mutants and it’s character focused so it should be great. I hope it gets picked up!

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