For Scripted Pilots, Everything New Is Old Again

In all-too-typical move, first-year broadcast hits inspire same-theme shows

In the world of television, imitation is the sincerest form
of development, so it is no surprise that many of the pilots in
contention at the broadcast networks for the 2012-13 season bear
resemblance to already-successful series.

And in a year where many of the networks have had breakout firstyear
hits, there is the strong possibility that several of next season’s
new apples won’t fall far from the sophomore tree. Though for all the
“[Insert-successful-genre-here] is back” stories you read last fall, one
season does not make a long-term trend.

“Sometimes the attempt at recreating success is successful, but more
often than not it’s just a pale imitation of what has been successful,”
says Bill Carroll, VP/director of programming at Katz Television Group.

Copying burgeoning formats always risks oversaturation, though
that’s never stopped TV executives before. But if several of the following
pilots should be picked up to series and a few see success next season,
be prepared to read a lot more about their genre’s ascendency—and
naturally, many more similar series in development.

Premise: Dramas with fairy tale characters and/or supernatural elements

Freshman successes: ABC’s Once Upon a Time, NBC’s Grimm

Pilot contenders: A year after two fairy tale-themed dramas were touted
at the upfronts, two identically titled fairy tale pilots have shown up in
development at ABC and The CW, with both having versions of Beauty
& the Beast
(ABC’s is a reimagining of the classic tale, while The CW’s is
based on the 1980s CBS cult hit). ABC, which had a breakout hit this
season with Once Upon a Time, is doubling down on the genre in its drama
development, with the supernaturally-themed 666 Park Avenue, about the
paranormal happenings at a New York apartment house, and the Grimm sounding
Gotham, which centers on a female law enforcement officer who finds a magical world in New York unseen by regular people.

Femme-led friendship

Freshman successes: CBS’ 2
Broke Girls
, Fox’s New Girl

Pilot contenders: After Zooey
Deschanel, Kat Dennings and
Beth Behrs proved breakout stars
last fall, TV declared the resurgence
of female-led comedies,
and agents started tripping over
themselves to pitch the next adorkable leading lady. The result is a fair
share of femme-fronted comedies, including an untitled Mindy Kaling
(The Office) project originally developed for NBC but ultimately picked
up by Fox, partially because it was seen as a perfect companion to
New Girl. CBS has a potential companion to 2 Broke Girls in Super Fun
, about a trio of female friends who make a point of going on a
“funcomfortable” pursuit every Friday night. And though series based
on female comics Whitney Cummings and Chelsea Handler haven’t
proven the hits NBC needs, the Peacock is trying again with the Sarah
Silverman-starrer Sarah 313.

Premise: Soap-opera drama with
shades of high-society voyeurism

Freshman successes: ABC’s

Pilot contenders: Soaps may
be dead on daytime, but they’re
the buzz of primetime development,
thanks to the Hamptonsset
guilty pleasure Revenge. That
series’ heir apparent would
seem to be the NBC pilot Notorious, about a female detective who returns
to the wealthy family she grew up in and goes undercover
—as the maid’s daughter—to try to solve the murder of an heiress who
was once her closest friend. ABC also has several sudsy pilots, including
one with class-divide tinges—Marc Cherry’s Devious Maids, about four ambitious
maids who service the rich and famous of Beverly Hills—as well as
Americana, following the owner of a garment manufacturing business and
his family, and the young designer that turns the company upside down.
ABC also has Scruples, based on the 1978 Judith Krantz novel about a widowed
socialite who opens a Beverly Hills fashion boutique. For Smash fans
who prefer their drama set to a soundtrack, ABC also has the soapy Nashville
about a country star at her peak and an up-and-coming musician.

Vehicle for a big-time ‘90s sitcom star

Freshman successes: ABC’s Last Man Standing

Pilot contenders:
Last Man Standing was voted this season’s inevitable
hit in B&C’s annual pre-season critics poll—a series with disappointing
execution but assured success by Tim Allen’s name recognition and
Home Improvement
pedigree. Paul Lee has followed up on the formula
with Reba McEntire in a fish-out-of-water role in Malibu Country, while
NBC is hoping lightning can strike twice with Roseanne stars Roseanne
Barr and John Goodman reuniting in its Downwardly Mobile project.
Plenty of other former sitcom stars are being featured in pilot roles, like
Everybody Loves Raymond’s Doris Roberts (ABC’s Counter Culture), The
King of Queens
’ Leah Remini (ABC’s White Van Man), Dharma & Greg’s
Jenna Elfman (NBC’s 1600 Penn), Friends’ Matthew Perry (NBC’s Go On)
and Full House’s John Stamos (Fox’s Little Brother).