Fall TV Pilot Trends: Beasts, Maids & Survivalists

Show creators seem to turn to fairy tales, zombies, and domestic workers for inspiration. Oh, and past hits

Last Updated: March 7, 2012 @ 7:44 AM

Who's influencing what shows you'll be watching this fall? Funny women, zombies, fairy-tale creatures and maids.

What, you were thinking writers and executives? Well, them, too. But the writers who develop show ideas for the networks – and hope executives will turn them into pilots and eventually series – are taking cues from the shows that are working this season. And in the case of three shows about plotting domestic servants, they're also following the news.

Also read: Fall Pilots 2012: The Complete List

TheWrap's complete list of the 2012 network pilots offers an intriguing look into the minds of the people who make them. We'll find out this spring which pilots will become full-fledged shows. Until then, we get to take part in the same guessing game as countless nail-bitten writers and producers, waiting for word on the future of their creations.

Some trends are to be expected: The continuing popularity of female-led pilots is no surprise given that "2 Broke Girls" and "The New Girl" are the two most successful new comedies of this season.

Less predictable are the pilots about mythical creatures or worlds, including not one but two updates of "Beauty and the Beast." (Technically, one updates the classic fairy tale, while the other updates the only semi-classic CBS show updating the classic fairy tale.) They're a response in part to the surprise success of ABC's "Once Upon a Time" and NBC's "Grimm."

And then there are the "Walking Dead"-influenced shows. Sorry, fans of flesh-eating: None of them feature zombies. But they do feature bands of people who, like the "Walking Dead" humans, barely cling to survival in desperately harsh landscapes. And networks are throwing a bone – sorry — to people who love the sight of ripping flesh. The cannibal drama "Hannibal," based on the esteemed Dr. Lecter, has already been ordered to a 13-episode series.

Here's a closer look at some 2012 pilot trends.

MORE FUNNY WOMEN, PLEASE

"2 Broke Girls" and "The New Girl" have kept networks' doors open for other female-centric pilots written by women – especially those about young women. Last season had 41 comedy pilots, 12 of them with female writers and leads. This year there are 45 comedy pilots. So far, 14 of them have women calling the shots and starring.

They include big names: Roseanne Barr seems a shoe-in for a pilot order with her new NBC pilot order, "Downwardly Mobile," which reunites her with "Roseanne" co-star John Goodman. NBC also ordered a pilot from "The Sarah Silverman Program" star Sarah Silverman. And pilots from writers Kari Lizer, Hilary Winston and Dana Klein will all feature female leads.

Lizer has another project with a female lead — Mary McCormack — at ABC. It's one of six ABC shows with female writers and leads. The others include sitcoms starring Mandy Moore (written Bob Fisher and Stacy Traub) and Judy Greer (Greer is producing with executive producers Deborah Kaplan and Harry Elfont writing).

Fox and CBS, which last year had two and one sitcom pilots, respectively, with female leads and writers, have the same numbers this year.

Both Fox comedies are led by women currently on NBC shows. Mindy Kaling, of "The Office" ensemble, is writing and starring in one, which comes from Universal TV. That would keep her an NBCU employee even if she leaves "The Office" to go her own way. Abby Elliott would leave "Saturday Night Live" if Fox orders Dana Fox's "Ned Fox is My Manny" to series.

Rebel Wilson, meanwhile, is writing and starring in CBS's "Super Fun Night" for Conan O'Brien's Conaco.

FAIRY TALES

ABC's "Beauty and the Beast," from ABC Studios and Mojo Films and writer Jon Steinberg, imagines and embattled princess forging a surprising connection with the beast. CW's version, from CBS Television and loosely based on the Linda Hamilton-Ron Perelman series, finds Kristin Kreuk as the beautiful Catherine and Jay Ryan (left) as the beastly Vincent. It's written by Jennifer Levin Sherri Cooper.

So… if both shows are ordered to pilot, which one gets to change its name?

ABC also goes the fantastical route with "Gotham," from writer Michael Green, in which a female cop discovers a magical version of New York City.

CW's "The Carrie Diaries," meanwhile, is about Carrie Bradshaw, pre-"Sex in the City," trying to meet nice, normal guys. Which is also a fairy tale, RIGHT LADIES?

SURVIVORS

AMC"s hit "The Walking Dead" is wildly admired among the writers and producers who come up with show ideas, and its influence may help explain why they've churned out several shows about people on the edge of survival. In lieu of zombies, they face energy crises, brutal competition, and a desperate struggle to build the world anew.

What else were you expecting in 2012? Apocalypse dramas were some of the Mayans' favorite shows.

ABC's "The Last Resort," from Shawn Ryan, follows a renegade nuclear submarine crew that refuses to deploy its weapons, and instead declare themselves a sovereign nation. With nukes.

NBC's "Revolution," from "Lost" producers J.J. Abrams and Brian Burke, imagines a world where all sources of energy suddenly disappear. Brilliant "Breaking Bad" bad guy Giancarlo Esposito plays a tough but genteel Southern military who may not be as he appears. 

Fans of dystopian realities just miiiiiight see similarities, meanwhile, between the CW's "The Selection" and "The Hunger Games." The pilot, based on an upcoming series of books, is described as an epic futuristic romance in which a poor young woman is chosen by lottery to compete to become the queen of a war-torn nation. Could it ride the popularity of the upcoming Jennifer Lawrence film the way CW's "Vampire Diaries" did the success of the "Twilight" movies? That seems to be the idea.

NBC's "Frontier" is also in survivalist mode, though it looks at our rugged past, not our doomed (well, according to television) future. The Western, from Shaun Cassidy, follows 1840s pioneers.

(While they aren't survivalist shows, two others sound like they similarly could have come from the mind of "Fight Club" and "Survivor" writer Chuck Pahlaniuk. An untitled Kevin Williamson project for Fox and the CW's "Cult," from writer Rockne O’Bannon, are both about criminal cults.)

MAIDS

If three separate shows involving domestic servants appear in the fall, you can thank "The Help" – or perhaps Arnold Schwarzenegger and Dominique Strauss-Kahn.

ABC's "Devious Maids," which, as you may have guessed from its title, comes from "Desperate Housewives" creator Marc Cherry, follows four maids who chase their own dreams while working for the rich and famous in Beverly Hills. It's based on a Mexican format.

NBC's "Notorious," written by Liz Heldens, finds the daughter of a wealthy family's maid returning to the family undercover to investigate a murder.

NBC's "Beautiful People," meanwhile, denies the humanity of domestic workers. That's because, on the show, humans are served by robots. As imagined by writer Michael McDonald, things go awry when those robots begin to "awaken."

Are robots the new zombies? We find out soon.

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