Pilot Buzz: Female-Led Comedies, Time Travel & Known Brands Heating Up at Broadcast Nets

May is here, which means that new broadcast TV shows are almost here.

This week, network execs are sitting in screening sessions, gathering final thoughts on pilots, some of which will be unveiled as official 2016-17 series later this month at upfronts in New York City.

Though the nets will have a better sense of their pilot slates by this week’s end, certain projects are emerging as hot — or not.

Diversity will shine this next TV season across the board, as will recognizable brands and talent. Female-led comedies are dominating ABC’s list of potential favorites, along with female-led dramas that appear to pack more procedural flare. Major male TV stars will topline the majority of programming at CBS. Fox is full of reboots, as well as some really big swings, while NBC is eyeing properties and hitmakers that have done well for them in the past. The CW is looking at yet another project from Greg Berlanti with industry insiders saying “Riverdale” is gearing up for a greenlight.


The network that brought Kerry Washington, Viola Davis and Priyanka Chopra to the forefront of broadcast TV will yet again showcase female stars, both in comedy and drama.

“Speechless,” starring Minnie Driver, impressed both the studio and network, while Candice Bergen’s comedy “Pearl” is said to be a favorite. Casey Wilson could be returning to the Alphabet with “Hail Mary” heating up, as is “The Second Fattest Housewife in Westport,” which stars “Mike & Molly’s” Katy Mixon. Another unconventional title that’s still standing is Allison Tolman’s “Downward Dog,” which has been at the top of ABC’s list since put into development. “Chunk & Bean,” which will bring “Breaking Bad’s” Anna Gunn into a family sitcom, is also strong.

On the drama side, Kiefer Sutherland’s “Designated Survivor” was ordered straight-to-series, securing a major TV name for ABC’s new slate. But the network is looking for more women to bring the drama next season with “The Jury,” starring “The Good Wife” alum Archie Panjabi, and John Ridley’s detective show “Presence,” starring breakout Stephanie Sigman, both getting positive reception. On the soapier side — which sources say ABC is trying to limit — Anna Paquin’s “Broken” from exec producer Reese Witherspoon was said to have turned out “beautiful,” while “The Death Of Eva Sofia Valdez” with “Suits” star Gina Torres pleased ABC brass.

And expanding ABC’s Marvel universe — though “Agent Carter” will likely be axed (with Hayley Atwell’s “Conviction” pilot getting great buzz) — “Marvel’s Most Wanted” isn’t quite a lock, but has a very good chance of going to series, say sources.


CBS is looking to pick up either three or five comedies, insiders say, including Matt LeBlanc’s comedy, which landed a series commitment, along with Kevin James’ comedy, which was also already ordered to series. Joel McHale’s “The Great Indoors” is an absolute favorite for the network, meaning The Eye could be home to three major male stars. On the female front, Poppy Montgomery’s “Furst Born,” based on the Australian series “Upper Middle Bogan,” is also looking good. Though it’s not sizzling as much, “What Goes Around Comes Around,” starring Alyssa Milano and Jason Lee, has a good chance, while comedies “Superior Donuts” and “Real Good People” aren’t generating much buzz.

Toplined by “NCIS” fan-favorite Michael Weatherly, the Dr. Phil-inspired “Bull” is at the top of CBS’s drama picks, along with the reboot of “Training Day.” After a not-so-stellar run of “Code Black,” which remains on the bubble, CBS may have found their next medical drama, as Jason Katims’ “Bunker Hill” apparently tested “through the roof.”

Sources caution it’s too soon to tell what may come for Nancy Drew remake “Drew” and the revival of “MacGyver,” both of which made a huge splash in the development and casting stage.


Already having ordered the “24” spinoff, Fox may be chock-full of IP next season with “The Exorcist” and “Lethal Weapon” among the network’s most hopeful pilots thus far with sources close to the latter show raving about the chemistry between co-stars Damon Wayans and Clayne Crawford. But the net is also taking some big swings, especially with the baseball bat. “Pitch,” a female-centric MLB drama, has everyone talking — especially about the show’s breakout star Kylie Bunbury who’s impressing the industry. Also out-of-the-box, time travel comedy “Making History” has held steady as one of Fox’s favorites throughout pilot season.

Female-led comedies could occupy much space on Fox’s slate with Kaitlin Olson‘s (“It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia”) “The Mick” high up on the network’s radar, along with buddy comedy “The Enforcers.” But things aren’t looking good for Courteney Cox‘s “Charity Case” or Judy Greer’s human resources sitcom.


NBC has already renewed many of its dramas, making the space overly competitive this year, but a few picks may make the cut, including Dick Wolf’s potential fourth “Chicago” show “Chicago Justice,” plus “The Blacklist” spinoff, though execs will wait to see how audiences respond to the backdoor pilot this week. Like Fox, the network is also hot on the time travel trend as “Time” has emerged as a strong suitor with insiders saying execs were glued from the moment they read the script. “Taken” has already been ordered to series, and NBC may be banking on more IP with “Cruel Intentions” still standing strong.

Dan Fogelman’s birthday dramedy, which was developed off-cycle, has industry-ites describing the project as “amazing.” As for comedies, “Good Place” is already ordered, bringing Ted Danson and Kristen Bell to the net — and more big names are expected to jump on the NBC train with Marlon Wayans’ vehicle “Marlon” coming in hot, along with Tracey Wigfield’s comedy, exec produced by Tina Fey and Robert Carlock. Sources add that “Dumb Prince” has a chance with Amy Poehler’s directing chops on the pilot impressing NBC’s higher-ups.

The CW

Berlanti’s “Riverdale,” based on the “Archie” comics, is seen as a lock with an insider firmly telling Variety, “This is getting ordered.” The younger-skewing net is looking to stay in business with more of its proven hitmakers, as “Vampire Diaries” co-creator Kevin Williamson’s paranormal drama is attracting attention.

Meanwhile, rumors are again flying that “Supergirl” could shift over to the CW, should it get renewed. While sources tell Variety there have been discussions, a network insider shot down the speculation.

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