Typically by the time July 4th rolls around, broadcast networks have already picked up the pilots they want to turn into series for the upcoming TV season, passed on the pilots that didn’t fit their needs for whatever reason, and released not only trailers for some of their upcoming series but fall schedules and premiere dates, as well. Even accounting for something atypical like a new series changing its title or a last minute scheduling shuffle, broadcast tends to have pretty much all of its business from the preceding season wrapped up by now.
As a result of COVID-19, though, this season is quite the new normal. The global coronavirus pandemic laid waste to the most recent pilot season, as only one pilot (CBS multi-cam B Positive) finished filming and a multitude of projects never shot the first frame. This put networks in the position of having to decide what to do with their respective pilot crops. How many do they actually film, if they film any at all? Do they just rely on scripts, casts, and producers in order to decide their series orders? Considering that we still don’t know when scripted television will be able to safely go back into production, is it even worth it to pick up anything?
With things very much in flux at every broadcast network, we here at KSiteTV have assembled on update on where this never-ending pilot season currently stands. Below you’ll find word on which pilots have been ordered, which have been passed on or rolled until next season, and which are still in limbo.
The Alphabet Network made waves recently by announcing that thirtysomething sequel thirtysomething(else) and Robert Aguirre-Sacasa vampire soap The Brides had been passed on. The reasoning behind the former amounted to the show being expensive and concerns about its lack of star power and filming in Canada, while the latter, led by Gina Torres and Goran Visnjic, was likely too off-brand from what the network typically does. The duo were joined by Jason Lee family comedy Valley Trash in not moving forward.
ABC did, however, commit to filming five pilots when it becomes safe to do so. The projects making the cut are Rebel, a legal drama based on the life of Erin Brockovich that stars Katey Sagal as a blue-collar legal advocate; family restaurant soap Harlem’s Kitchen, headed by Oscar hopeful Delroy Lindo; multi-cam Bossy (fka Kids Matter Now), about a demanding, un-kid friendly boss who adopts a child and looks to her assistant for help navigating life as a working mother; Home Economics, a single cam comedy about three siblings of three different socioeconomic statuses; and Work Wife, a comedy based on the relationship between Kelly Ripa and Ryan Seacrest.
Still alive but pushed into the network’s “second cycle” development track are Jimmy Kimmel comedy Adopted, centering on a Green Beret who returns home from duty and struggles adapting to life with his newly adopted 12-year-old brother; National Parks Service, a drama about the elite special agents of the Investigative Services Branch who solve crimes committed on the National Parks of the ISB’s Pacific West region; and decade-hopping medical drama Triage. Considering that the upcoming television season will likely be shortened due to coronavirus, there’s a good chance each of these projects are more on the fall 2021 development track vs. midseason/summer.
But just because ABC has made quite a few decisions concerning its development class doesn’t mean that every project knows their fate. Western comedy Prospect, Lost-like plane crash drama Wreckage, and an untitled Emily Kapnek comedy are still waiting for word as to whether they’ll be filling out the ABC “second cycle” slate, rolled into the 2021-22 development class, or rejected altogether. In the case of Wreckage and the Emily Kapnek series (fka Wild Child), they have a combined one announced casting, so unless the network believes in the backup scripts they requested, I’m not sure they have a great choice of moving forward.
Headed into next season, ABC already has series orders for crime thriller Big Sky and Kyra Sedgwick multi-cam Call Your Mother. Big Sky will air Tuesdays at 10:00 this fall following The Bachelorette, while Call Your Mother was originally scheduled for the fall before being pushed to midseason in favor of Black-ish.
CBS is the only Big Four broadcast network to not have, as of press time, publicly announced their plans for dealing with their pilot crop. That is not to say that the network still has the same number of projects they started out with – they’ve already passed on David E. Kelley’s The Lincoln Lawyer adaptation, which is said to be on the hunt for a new home, and Michael Urie/Becki Newton sibling comedy Fun, while cop drama Out the Door was rolled into next season due to troubles casting the lead. They’ve also given series orders to B Positive, Silence of the Lambs sequel Clarice, and a Queen Latifah-fronted reboot of The Equalizer, which was previously retrofitted into a film series starring Denzel Washington.
On the comedy series, the network has single cam Ghosts, about a financially struggling young couple (Rose McIver, Utkarsh Ambudkar) who inherit a beautiful country house that just so happens to be haunted; Jury Duty, which follows a sequestered jury as they work on the same trial and try to come up with a unanimous verdict; sibling comedy The Three of Us; The United States of Al, centering on the friendship between a Marine (Parker Young) and his Afghani interpreter (Adhir Kalyan); and an untitled series from Corinne Kingsbury about an overwhelmed working mother (Hannah Simone) who enlists her own mother (Elizabeth Hurley) to help raise her young son.
Meanwhile, CBS only has two dramas still in limbo – medical drama Good Sam, which follows the relationship between a talented but stifled surgeon (Sophia Bush) and her renowned but pompous boss (Jason Isaacs), and Ways & Means, a political drama about the working relationship between two Congressional figures from opposite sides of the ideological aisle.
FOX just this week announced that they are committed to filming all six of their active pilots, thereby extending the contracts of each project’s cast and producers. It’s an interesting move considering FOX already doesn’t have that much room for scripted content and their regular scripted content is currently penciled in for a January 2021 premiere. I don’t know when, where, or how they’ll have room to squeeze in more scripted series, but they’re bound to have a plan if they went to the (expensive) trouble of extending the options of every pilot and ordering backup scripts.
Currently on FOX’s comedy pilot docket are female friendship series Pivoting, about a group of women who are forced to reevaluate their own lives after the death of their childhood best friend, and British mockumentary adaptation This Country. The network has already given series orders to animated comedies Housebroken and The Great North, as well as Mayim Bialik multi-cam Call Me Kat, an American adaptation of acclaimed British series Miranda.
The FOX drama pilot slate currently consists of four projects – dance drama The Big Leap, about a group of underdog dancers who compete to land a role on a reality series putting on a modern remake of Swan Lake; Blood Relative, a procedural focusing on Louise Kelly (Melissa Leo), one of the leaders in the field of genetic genealogy; mob drama The Cleaning Lady, centering on a Cambodian doctor (Elodie Yung) who comes to the United States looking for medical help for her son, only to end up playing the game by her own rules; and an untitled series following a substitute teacher who helps three of her students produce a shot-for-shot remake of The Goonies.
Like ABC, the Peacock Network has been busy pruning its 2020-21 pilot slate. While NBC hasn’t passed on anything as of yet, much less anything high profile like thirtysomething(else) or The Brides, the network has keyed in on a handful of projects that will be filmed. The list includes Langdon, a drama based on Dan Brown novel The Lost Symbol; multi-cam Night School, an ensemble comedy looking to adapt the 2018 Tiffany Haddish film of the same name into series form;
The comedies might have a more difficult time in getting ordered than the dramas due to NBC already having three straight-to-series comedies in Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson origin story Young Rock, Tina Fey political comedy Mr. Mayor, and 2019-20 holdover Kenan (fka The Kenan Show). The network has already cut its once lauded Thursday comedy block in favor of moving SVU to 9:00 to launch straight-to-series spinoff Law & Order: Organized Crime, so it seems unlikely that they’ll have the in-season scheduling space to handle their straight-to-series orders and more than one of Night School/Grand Crew/American Auto.
Aside from the suddenly emergence of Organized Crime, the NBC drama pilots will be negatively impacted by the network’s commitment to sinkhole mystery La Brea, a highly tauted series in development with a six-episode script order. This puts the special effects-heavy series on track for a straight-to-series order in lieu of a pilot, meaning that any additional filming wouldn’t happen until 2021. As such, NBC recently released almost the entire original cast as a cost-saving measure; should the series get an order, the network is said to be interested in reaching out to the cast and inviting them to rejoin the series if they’re still available.
With decisions made on which projects they want to film, La Brea getting comfortable in development purgatory, and space drama Debris ordered to series, the remainder of NBC’s pilot slate will roll over into the 2021-22 developmental season. This includes family drama At That Age, about the foundational shift that happens in a Black family when their golden child suffers a catastrophic event; body swapping procedural Echo; Crazy For You, the story of a woman (Shelley Hennig) re-entering the dating world only to realize that everything’s changed; Jim Jefferies vehicle Jefferies; and romantic comedy Someone Out There, based on the
While the rest of the broadcast networks are flailing around trying to figure out what to film, how many new series they’ll need for 2020-21, and which projects are worth rolling into 2021-22, The CW has provided far and away the least drama and uncertainty in this regard.
During the typical pre-upfronts week in May, the network made decisions on the four traditional pilots they fielded. Martial arts saga Kung Fu, centering on a young Chinese-American woman whose quarter-life crisis lands her at a monastery in China and finds her a new sense of purpose in the process, and small town drama The Republic of Sarah made the cut for series orders, just beating out Josh Schwartz First Daughter drama Maverick and The CW’s third attempt at The Lost Boys. Both Maverick and The Lost Boys are said to be rolled into the 2021-22 development season. However, it’s tough to see the network in the market for a drama about the daughter of a fiercely authoritarian president in this political/social climate, while the odds are certainly against the fourth shot at cracking The Lost Boys being the one that lands.
Kung Fu and The Republic of Sarah join CW straight-to-series orders Superman and Lois and Walker, Texas Ranger reboot Walker on the network’s scripted slate for next season. Like FOX, The CW is filling the fall months with low-cost acquisitions and unscripted as means of combating COVID-19 production shutdowns of its original scripted content. The network has thus penciled in a January 2021 start to its season, with Superman and Walker both occupying slots on the schedule; Kung Fu and The Republic of Sarah would then likely become spring/summer shows as The CW continues its push into year-round programming. Among the CW shows likely joining Kung Fu and The Republic of Sarah in bleeding over into the summer are Dynasty, Black Lightning, Supergirl, In the Dark, and Roswell, New Mexico.
All that remains for The CW to decide are the fates of its backdoor pilots for spinoffs of Arrow and The 100. As of May, the two series are still very much alive, with the episode launching The 100‘s spinoff set to air Wednesday, July 8th. Whether one, both, or neither get ordered depends on the network’s programming budget and scheduling space, as well as the long-term impact of COVID-19 on television production.