The networks are hoping to pump up the primetime volume with this year’s crop of drama development.
Serials are mostly out, but loud, highly marketable hour-longs are in. High-concept shows, like CBS’ musical “Viva Laughlin” (a take on the Brit hit “Viva Blackpool!”) are vying for timeslots, as are a surplus of thrillers (Fox’s “New Amsterdam,” CBS’ Babylon Fields,” CW’s “Reaper”).
The nets are promising big-name directors (such as Spike Lee, for NBC’s New York mayor project), and looking to capture viewers’ imagination with some rather catchy titles (ABC’s “Dirty Sexy Money” and “Cashmere Mafia,” NBC’s “Lipstick Jungle”).
British imports are also hot — besides the “Blackpool” remake, ABC has domestic versions of the U.K.’s “Footballers’ Wives” and “Life on Mars,” while CW is tackling the overseas entry “Wild at Heart.”
Whether the nets actually stuff their skeds with more adventurous fare is another question, of course — and won’t be answered until May. As insurance, the webs are also developing the usual stable of police, medical and legal franchises just in case execs wind up not too high on high-concept.
A network-by-network glance at this pilot season’s drama offerings:
Blood and guts have been the Eye’s meat and potatoes for years, but the net is eager to spice things up.
CBS Entertainment prexy Nina Tassler has kept her promises to shake up the net’s drama development, greenlighting a slate of projects that feels decidedly un-CBS.
There’s “Babylon Fields,” a sudsy drama about zombies. Another show revolves around a detective (snore) who also happens to be a vampire (hmmm …).
One of Tassler’s passion projects is a period drama about open marriages called “Swingtown.” And in perhaps the year’s boldest bet, the Eye is remaking the Blighty musical dramedy “Viva Blackpool!” (with Laughlin, Nev., filling in for the U.K. coastal resort town).
“We’re trying to make a lot of noise this season and be successful in doing so,” Tassler says. “These are shows that we believe are going to get talked about … because we want to be talked about. I think it’s our time.”
Tassler is taking so many chances in part because she doesn’t want to suffer the fate of past No. 1 networks, which saw their fortunes fade fast after viewers tired of too many shows that hewed to familiar formulas.
CBS is also developing some more traditional fare, such as a Gary Scott Thompson L.A. cop show and a missing persons hour toplined by Stephen Dorff. Come May, it’ll be interesting to see if the Eye decides to be bold — or stick with what it does best.
Despite adding more successes to its sked this season (“Ugly Betty,” “Brothers & Sisters”), the Alphabet still has plenty of holes to fill.
While finding a half-hour comedy pulse has to be the net’s overall priority, it’s also looking for more drama. Net is particularly hungry for its own crime procedural franchise a la “CSI.” It’s got five cop or detective shows in the works, including one inspired by classic character Phillip Marlowe (starring Jason O’Mara) and the “Rashomon”-like “Suspect.”
Alphabet’s roster is once again femme-friendly, with four of 13 drama pilots featuring female leads. And the net isn’t backing off from serialized skeins, though it does seem to be lightening up a bit with its remakes of U.K. smashes “Footballers’ Wives” and “Life on Mars.”
The net of “Desperate Housewives” has more memorable titles in the works, with hopefuls including “Judy’s Got a Gun,” “Women’s Murder Club” and “Pushing Daisies.”
Big franchise dramas dominate Fox’s slate, as the net looks to duplicate the kind of noise it gets from its brash hits like “24” and “Prison Break.”
This development season, that means a spy drama from Bob Cochran and David Ehrman, “NSA Innocent”; the “Terminator” spinoff “Sarah Connor Chronicles”; and the thriller “Them,” based on the graphic novel about alien spies on Earth.
On the legal front, net is looking at a female attorney project (“Canterbury’s Law”) and will take a stab at dramatizing the Supreme Court (“Supreme Courtships,” about the lives of six court clerks).
Fox is still determined to crack the cop series, piloting “The Apostles,” about officers whose intense jobs spill into their personal lives, and “K-Ville,” about cops in post-Katrina New Orleans.
Net is also big on “New Amsterdam,” which combines the cop genre with a spooky franchise (police detective is secretly centuries old).
And paging Dr. House: Fox is spending more time in the hospital, developing pilots about doctors (“The Cure”) and nurses (“Nurses”).
When you boast the year’s only true break-out drama, it’s hard not to notice potential skedmates come development time. So, the network of “Heroes” is digging deep for a few more protagonists out to save the world.
Josh Schwartz’s “Chuck,” for example, chronicles a computer geek by day who does heroic things in his off-hours. Kevin Falls’ “Journeyman” centers on a man who goes back in time to change the course of events — and fix his own life.
Then, of course, there’s the remake of “The Bionic Woman.”
Beyond that, NBC is returning to the men and women in blue this development season, coming up with three projects revolving around cops: “Ft. Pit” (about the NYPD’s toughest precinct); “Life,” Rand Ravich’s tale of a wrongly imprisoned ex-cop; and the David Shore/Peter Blake drama starring Famke Janssen as an officer.
Among highly promotable projects, NBC has piloted the TV version of Candace Bushnell’s “Lipstick Jungle,” and has Spike Lee helming Tom Fontana’s New York mayorship project.
And the Peacock isn’t immune to the comedic drama trend, greenlighting the suburban-set “The Watch.”
For NBC Entertainment prexy Kevin Reilly, the buzzword this development season has been the net’s return to “quality.”
“Vision is a word that gets thrown around a lot but is in short supply,” he says. “When you got it, you grab it.”
After a decent launch, the pressure’s on for the CW to begin carving out its identity.
With staples such as “Gilmore Girls” and “7th Heaven” anything but sure bets to return next fall, the newbie net needs to create shows that engender fierce loyalty from the net’s core 12-34 aud– and fill some potential holes.
One hopeful: “Reaper,” an hour about a bounty hunter who reclaims souls for Satan — an idea that seems like a good fit with “Supernatural” or even “Smallville.”
It’s easy to see the Green giving thumbs up to the sudsy Josh Schwartz-penned “Gossip Girl” as either a companion (or replacement) for “Gilmore.” And if “7th Heaven” goes away, family drama “Wild at Heart” seems a suitable feel-good replacement.
CW also has a rookie cop drama in the works, and was still expected to pick up a few more hours.
For the most up-to-date pilot happenings, visit variety.com/pilotwatch07