The 9 Biggest Pilot Trends of 2015: Diversity, Movie Adaptations, Generation Gaps

TheWrap takes a look a this year’s shows in contention at the broadcast networks and the categories in which they fall


It’s that time when the networks are looking to replenish its lineups and while the pilot orders are stacking up, specific trends begin to show themselves.

This year, CBS, The CW, ABC, NBC and Fox pilot orders range a wide breadth of topics. TheWrap combed the dozens of pilots in contention for Fall 2015 and found the biggest trends of the batch.

Many of the pilots landed in one (or more) of nine categories ranging from autobiographical to diversity, historical and parenting themes.

Every pilot season is a reflection of the years’ hits, and just as much about the year’s misses. For example, a network may have a real need for comedies and will therefore order more comedy pilots than dramas. Something else to keep in mind: Only a fraction of these projects will find themselves actually on TV. Yes, entertainment is a cutthroat world.

Here are the nine categories TheWrap found at least three or more pilots fell into:

laverne cox casting cbs pilot doubt
Colin Douglas Gray/MTV

1. Diversity
It’s no surprise to anyone that projects dealing with minority leads are flourishing this season, what with the success of “Empire,” “Scandal,” “How to Get Away With Murder” and “Black-Ish.” Sure, it serves society as a whole to have more minority leads, but please don’t give networks (except ABC, perhaps) the benefit of the doubt that these diverse pilots were ordered if someone else hadn’t already proven that they could be successful.

Among the pilots in this category are ABC’s “Dr. Ken,” starring Ken Jeong in “Dr. Ken” and Whoopi Goldberg in “Delores & Jermaine” and CBS’s “Doubt” gets two diversity points for casting  African-American transgender actress, Laverne Cox.

Getty Images
Getty Images

2. Autobiographical comedies
Networks are asking writer-producers to write what they know in their search for the next “Black-Ish” or “Goldbergs.” Who can blame them?

It’s surprising how well specificity plays to broad audiences — it somehow feels universal to viewers. “Seinfeld” is the gold standard in this category and is still beloved by its fans.

This category’s pilots include sex columnist Dan Savage and “Jackass” star Johnny Knoxville‘s ABC projects and comedian Tommy Johnagin’s CBS pilot. And, you may have heard of Fox’s “Detour,” which is based on the life of Weezer front man Rivers Cuomo.

Playwright Dan Jinks is writing/producing a medical drama for CBS. (Getty Images)

3. Medical dramas
The days of “ER” are certainly a thing of the past, but the success of “Grey’s Anatomy” and the buzz surrounding NBC’s developing “Chicago Fire” spinoff, “Chicago Med,” show that there’s still a lot of interest in medical dramas. But, there aren’t a lot of them on TV right now. That may change.

There are several medical drama pilots being ordered at the nets. Those include “Emily Owens MD” producer Dan Jinks‘ CBS project with playwright Paul Downs Colaizzo on “LFE,” which centers on second-year residents; “Intelligence” writer/producer Michael Seitzman’s CBS pilot uses an LA County hospital as its setting for “Code Black”; and “My So-Called Life” writer-producer Jill Gordon’s “Heart Matters,” a medical soap centered on one of the few female heart transplant surgeons in the country.

Modern Family

4. Generation Gaps
The differences between generations can be a rich source of comedy (and drama). “Modern Family,” after all, is still the highest-rated comedy on TV. This year’s pilot class includes several projects revolving around what develops when people who grew up in different times come together.

“Hot in Cleveland” and “Client List” creator Suzanne Martin’s untitled NBC pilot follows two empty-nesters whose adult daughters suddenly move back home. Also at NBC, “Cuckoo,” which is based on a British series, focuses on a daughter who comes back from a summer abroad married to a charming but infuriating eccentric named Cuckoo, much to her father’s annoyance. And Over at Fox, an untitled John Stamos project whose life is upended when he discovers he’s a father – and a grandfather.


downton abbey season 5 cast

5. Period/Historical projects
Once more of a cable staple, historical series are making their way to network. Blame History’s “The Bible” and BBC’s “Downton Abbey.”

For example, NBC and Stevie Wonder’s miniseries pilot, “Freedom Run,” is set around the underground railroad and the slavery era; ABC’s “Broad Squad,” from the producers of “Gossip Girl,” follows the first four women to graduate from Boston’s Police Academy in 1978; and then there’s ABC’s “Of Kings and Prophets,” a biblical saga told through the eyes of a battle-weary king, a powerful and resentful prophet and a resourceful young shepherd on a collision course with destiny.

amy poehler parks and recreation

6. Workplace shows
With “The Office” and “30 Rock” shuttered and with “Mad Men” and “Parks and Recreation” on the way out, there’s certainly room for new workplace shows. The current pilot haul may just fill the position.

In “Late Night With Jimmy Fallon” writer Tim McAuliffe’s pilot “Fantasy of Life” for Fox, a man lands his ultimate dream job hosting a fantasy football show, but must deal with the office politics. And ABC’s “Superstore” follows a group of employees at a big-box store will be written and produced by “The Office” producer Justin Spitz.

"Homeland" Season 4 premiere

7. American adaptations
Seriously, you have to expect that copycat Hollywood has been cruising the world’s biggest hits with an eye to replicating their success here in the U.S. After all, shows that have a history of ratings wins somewhere else have at least been tested. See “Homeland,” “The Office,” “Entreatment,” “Tyrant,” “House of Cards,” the list goes on and on. Wipe those tears away with your spec pilot manuscript.

Fox is making its own version of the award-winning “Luther” series — with star Idris Elba attached as a producer. NBC’s supernatural small town pilot, “Strange Calls,” is based on an Australian format. And ABC’s arms dealing drama, “Runner,” is adapted from a Turkish format.

john candy tv reboot

8. Movies adapted to TV
As with foreign shows, Hollywood likes to see that someone else took a chance on something before they did. Enter adapting movies for TV. TheWrap has counted nearly 30 movies currently in some stage of being adapted for TV. What’s on the current pilot slate? Fox is remaking “Minority Report,” ABC has “Uncle Buck” and CBS is remaking “Rush Hour.”


9. Parenting
Clearly, we’re still interested in the plight of parenting. This year’s pilots look at parenting through different points of view, situations and ages.

ABC’s “The Brainy Bunch” follows a new stay-at-home dad of genius children, for example. And, ABC’s “Chev & Bev” cast the “Lampoon’s Vacation” stars Chevy Chase and Beverly D’Angelo as retirees who find out that they have to raise their grandchildren. CBS comedy pilot “The Mistake” revolves around another couple who felt they were done with parenting only to find out they’re expecting a new baby.