Third in a series of reports on the new pilot season.
Ah, pilot season — that awesome but inherently frustrating time of year on the TV calendar when at least one project you're rooting for gets boned big time by network executives who didn't get it.
All too often, subpar series get the green light at the expense of far more worthy projects (see NBC's rogering last year of Paul Simms' promising "Beach Lane," which starred Matthew Broderick and Patton Oswalt).
This is not to mention the predictably terrible ratings that come in the fall for the crap-sicles that got picked up in their stead and painful memories of shows with the names “Inside Schwartz” and “Four Kings."
But sometimes TV executives get it right and sign up shows that not only have strong casts and bankable creative teams attached, but ungimmicky hooks that will still be appealing years down the road. Think “Lost,” "30 Rock" and "Arrested Development."
Okay, that last one is an unfortunate example, thanks to Fox's brutal massacre after just three seasons of a comedy that should have been around for 20 years.
With just five weeks to go until the networks set their lineups, we thought now would be a good time to bring their attention to the following six projects, because we'll cry if they're not on the fall schedule. Or at least grumble a whole lot.
Further below, we've also thrown in a few of the pilots we think should be thrown into the trunk of a car and driven to Giants Stadium for proper burial.
“MY LIFE AS AN EXPERIMENT” (NBC)
Creators: Josh Goldsmith and Cathy Yuspa (executive producers, "King of Queens"), and Jack Black (below)
Key talent: Jon Dore, Donald Sutherland
Why greenlight it?: That Jon Dore looks nothing like writer A.J. Jacobs is beside the point. The Canadian stand-up vet (fun fact: he was the first comedian booked on “Conan”) should put an appealing spin on Jacobs's best-selling book of essays about a participatory journalist who involves his wife and family in his outlandish stunts. Jack Black optioned the project through his Electric Dynamite production company last year and two "King of Queens" vets are in charge. But the show really caught buzz when Donald Sutherland hopped on board to play A.J.’s father.
“THE RIVER” (ABC)
Creator: Oren Peli (the writer-director of “Paranormal Activity”)
Key talent: Bruce Greenwood
Why greenlight it?: It has been a long time since a truly scary series graced network television — since “The X-Files,” probably — and frankly, there should be more. That’s why we’re hopeful ABC will approve of this intriguing pilot that documents a search in the Amazon for an adventurous television personality and his missing crew. By doing so, the network will finally be forgiven for not picking up David Lynch’s “Mulholland Drive” pilot back in 1999 (which he thankfully saved by condensing it into his mind-bending 2001 film). We might even lift the mysterious “eternal baggy pants” curse we put on the morons responsible for that travesty.
“CHICKS AND DICKS” (Fox)
Creator: Elizabeth Meriwether (writer, “No Strings Attached”)
Key talent: Zooey Deschanel (left)
Why greenlight it?: First off, this show's title will obviously change, and not only because when you type it into Google, a lot of very NSFW things come up. But the as-yet-untitled Liz Meriwether project, about a city girl who catches her boyfriend cheating and winds up moving in with three guys platonically, excites us because it seems like a sensible light-comedy vehicle for Deschanel to have picked for her foray into TV. It helps that many millions of 18- to 49-year-olds would watch her in anything for, oh, 22 minutes — even her inauspicious debut TV performance on “Veronica’s Closet.” Getting us to come back week after week is a different story, and ordinarily we would make fun of something created by the person who gave us the odious Natalie Portman-Ashton Kutcher rom-com “No Strings Attached,” but after reading Meriwether’s pilot script, we’ll give her benefit of the doubt that that movie’s failure probably wasn’t her fault.
“LITTLE IN COMMON” (Fox)
Creator: Rob Thomas (“Veronica Mars”)
Key talent: Rob Corrdry, Paula Marshall, Gabrielle Union
Why greenlight it?: When Starz canceled “Party Down” last year after only two freaking awesome seasons, a little piece of the few who had the pleasure of seeing the ensemble comedy about misfits who work for a Los Angeles catering company was gone forever, never to return. Co-creator Rob Thomas, who was better known for smartly-scripted action, proved he was also adept with sitcoms that didn’t feel like sitcoms; “Little in Common,” about a trio of couples who meet and bond at their kids’ sporting events, has that vibe as well. With a strong cast led by Rob Corddry ("Hot Tub Time Machine") as a wise-cracking father, “Little in Common” could make up for the pain of being shafted on a third season of “Party Down.”
Notable creator: J.J. Abrams (“Lost” creator), Elizabeth Sarnoff (“Lost” writer)
Key talent: Sam Neill, Robert Forster, Parminder Nagra, Jorge Garcia
Why greenlight it?: OK, this is a bit of a cheat, as “Alcatraz” has already received an order for 12 episodes for the fall. But if Fox honchos were smart, they’d just greenlight this tantalizing puppy for five seasons now and get it over with. The series follows an investigation into why a group of Alcatraz prisoners and guards, who had gone missing 50 years ago, have suddenly turned up inside the prison in the modern day. If that doesn’t sound like a logical follow-up to the many mysteries of “Lost,” we don’t know what does. All that, plus Jorge Garcia plays a geeky Alcatraz expert and, hey, here's some horrible YouTube footage shot by a fan.
UNTITLED EMILY SPIVEY PROJECT (NBC)
Creators: Emily Spivey (writer, "Parks & Recreation"), Lorne Michaels
Key talent: Will Arnett, Christina Applegate, Maya Rudolph
Why greenlight it?: Because it doesn't have a title yet. (Just kidding, but while we're at it, we'll suggest "Batter Up" as the title — not because it has anything to do with the show, but because the baseball cliché has shockingly never been used as a TV title before.) We'll admit that the pilot script didn't blow us away, but the addition of three heavy hitters like Applegate, Arnett and Rudolph gives us more than a little hope that comedy magic would happen sooner or later.
Here are three pilots we think should be stopped … before they can do harm to some other pilot that deserves to be on the air:
UNTITLED ROB SCHNEIDER PROJECT (CBS)
Creator and star: Rob Schneider
Yes, Rob Schneider (right) has an untitled project in development. Worse, it has a decent chance of getting picked up. That would annoy us as much as Rob Schneider’s face, his hair, his movies and his existence. This turd of an untitled project’s premise? A schlub marries into a huge Mexican-American family and wackiness ensues. Sounds like catnip for CBS’s Arizona affiliates, but a protest waiting to happen everywhere else.
Creator: Tim Kring "Crossing Jordan"
Key talent: Kiefer Sutherland
We’d love Kiefer Sutherland to get back on the air in the right series, but not in one which the premise sounds like an M. Night Shyamalan film. The former “24” star plays a JFK baggage handler whose autistic son can predict future events. We will watch this only if “I see snoozing people” is one of the lines in the pilot.
MANN’S WORLD (NBC)
Creator: Michael Patrick King
Key talent: Don Johnson, Ellen Barkin
This pilot from Michael Patrick King (“Sex and the City”) stars Don Johnson as a straight Beverly Hills hairdresser trying to remain relevant. Dare we repeat that? Yes, we dare. Don Johnson plays a straight Beverly Hills hairdresser trying to remain relevant. If given the greenlight, “Mann’s World” has a zero-percent chance of not being the worst network series ever created