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The networks order their (drama) pilots (Darwin gives his thoughts)

This is a list of pilots the networks have ordered for the 02-03 season. Titles are accompanied by studio, production company and producers. Most of the info below (the name of the shows, the producers involved, the plots) comes from The Hollywood Reporter, and I thank them greatly.


ASTRONAUTS, 20th Century Fox TV/Industry Ent., T. Robinson, I. Sander, K. Moses, N. Wechsler, E. Levisett.

Ive heard two descriptions of this project: one had the astronauts competing for a place on a mission to Mars; the other had them training for the trip to Mars.

In either case, this doesnt sound much like a TV premise. At the center of every TV show has to be a heart and soul that can grow and expand over years and years. With this story, you ask yourself: once they train, once they get to Mars, what then? Maybe they get to Mars, set up a habitat, and find they can live there.

If this show has a big enough budget, they might be able to create the good astro-drama weve seen so often in movies. Having said that, isnt that another problem: weve seen an endless spate of astronaut films, from APOLLO 13 to SPACE COWBOYS.

EIS, Touchstone TV, D. Lemke, N. Rodrigue, N. Wass, G. Stein.

Foot soldiers of the CDC who investigate cases.

Want to sell a TV show to a network? Come up with an idea that has a three-letter abbreviation. Theres SVU, CSI, and now EIS.

Its hard to say how people will take a show about the Center of Disease Control after the anthrax scare (which has not actually ended).

HOMEWARD BOUND, Studios USA, J. Judah, G. Sachs, D. Stokdyk, J. Gwartz.

Young woman moves home after her life falls apart.

All I can say is that this is the most inspiring, staggeringly original idea Ive ever heard.

JOHN RIDLEY PROJECT, Touchstone TV, John Ridley, Kevin Misher.

In the vein of SPY KIDS.

John Ridley is the man behind the movies COLD AROUND THE HEART and U-TURN (he wrote and directed the first and co-wrote the latter with Oliver Stone). He had a producer credit on THIRD WATCH for a season. His Internet-cartoon creation UNDERCOVER BROTHER will be at a theater near you soon. Hes also a novelist. (He gets credited with THREE KINGS, but did not, in fact, write any of it.)

All this leads me to a question: why is he writing something in the vein of SPY KIDS? Hes written about lowlifes in film-noir situations, criminals, depressed, life-crashing comedians. Why a rip of something that was a rip to begin with?

MASSETT/ZINMAN/SPICER PROJECT, Touchstone TV, P. Massett, J. Zinman, B. Spicer, C. Zadan, N. Meron.

Father-and-son archaeology team a la INDIANA JONES.

Massett and Zinman were two of the writers on the insufferably awful LARA CROFT: TOMB RAIDER. (Probably the biggest waste of an actress talents in years.) Since TOMB RAIDER is a take on the INDIANA JONES films, I guess the writers figured: it worked once, why not again? (Which is something a lot of TV producers think, and something youll hear here more than once.)

Lucas couldnt make THE YOUNG INDIANA JONES work, despite having Jonathan Hensleigh and Frank Darabont working on the staff, so how can we expect them to make this work?

MAYOR PROJECT, Touchstone/Brad Grey TV/Miramax TV, Charles Randolph.

A big-city mayor and his staff.

I dont watch it, but doesnt ABC already have a show with this same setup? (I speak of SPIN CITY, if you didnt know.)

MIRACLES, Spyglass Ent./Touchstone TV, R. Hatem, R. Birnbaum, G. Barber.

Vatican-based investigator probes reports of miracles.

Now that X-FILES is going off the air, expect paranormal shows to come out of the ying-yang. Even when X was at its lowest, it was still the best eerie-sci-fi, the-truth-is-out-there show on TV (thanks to Chris Carter, apparently). Every knockoff put on the air was dismissed with an it wants to be THE X-FILES label. Now the damning contrast wont be as severe. This sounds like its influenced by STIGMATA.

NANCY DREW, Touchstone TV, Ami Mann, Kevin Brown.

Based on the books by Carolyn Keene.

Now this is a project I cant wait to see. In a perfect world they would make Nancy older, a Jennifer Love Hewitt/Jennifer Garner type, who wears short, plaid skirts, skin-tight, d�ollet�shirts, thigh-high boots, and has a predisposition for unexpected, spontaneous showers.

Or maybe its just me.

ROD LURIE PROJECT, DreamWorks TV/Touchstone TV, Rod Lurie.

Young congressional staffer in her first year on Capitol Hill.

Rod Lurie, the man behind THE LAST CASTLE and THE CONTENDER, is back to his old stomping ground for his first foray into TV. I thought THE LAST CASTLE was a joke, but THE CONTENDER was a smart movie that was able to make a far-reaching point about something in a non-mawkish way, and at the same time sweep you up in a near detective yarn. Pushing past the wayward CASTLE, Ill look in on whatever Lurie has cooking.

PARANORMAL GIRL, Touchstone TV, Pam Brady, Andrew Fleming.

Teenage girl with paranormal abilities recruited by the FBI.

I told you to be on the lookout for paranormal shows. This one has it right in the title.

The pedigree for this show is fairly impressive: Brady co-wrote the SOUTH PARK movie and worked on the TV shows staff; she also wrote for JUST SHOOT ME and THE JOHN LARROQUETTE SHOW. Fleming has been down this road before, with his movie THE CRAFT. He also co-wrote and directed DICK.

This sounds a bit like NANCY DREW meets BUFFY meets SABRINA meets THE X-FILES, but the involvement of Brady (who, besides Nancy Pimental, was the only female PARK writer) somehow intrigues me. With her around, you can be sure this isnt just going to be a run-of-the-mill FBI potboiler.

PUSH, NEVADA, Touchstone TV/LivePlanet, Ben Affleck, Sean Bailey, Chris Moore.

Heres how the shows web site describes it:

A dramatic series set in the created town of Push, Nevada. It blends elements of fact and fiction, drama and reality. The show takes place in the Nevada town of Push and chronicles a strange series of events that occur around the Versailles Casino and a missing seven-figure sum of money.

Push, Nevada is an interactive television, new media, and physical world experience. The audience will be incentivized (sic) to watch the show, participate online and travel to physical world locations in an attempt to win a very real reward.

After reading that, my question is: what the hell is this show about? Is it a reality TV show or not? If its not, having audience participation is not a good idea. Even though people like myself enjoy ranting at writers and directors about their creations, in the end no one actually wants to get off their duff and do the writing and directing. We want to sit back and have the brilliance wash over us like a wave.

Sean Bailey and Ben Affleck wrote the pilot for the show. I like the title, I dont like the idea of another strange-occurrences TV show, but maybe if we knew exactly what we were getting here it would be easier to accept. (LivePlanet gets no complaints from me on their first TV show, PROJECT GREENLIGHT, which has proved to be one of the best reality programs ever produced.)

THAT WAS THEN, Touchstone TV, Dan Cohn, Jeremy Miller, Jeff Kline.

30-year-old man goes back in time to high school.

Dan Cohn and Jeremy Miller are producers on the David E. Kelley high-school drama BOSTON PUBLIC. In other words, they worked on Davids show, stuck around a few years, and are now taking his idea to another station (with -- am I seeing this right? -- a time-travel twist). Way to go, guys! How they ever got on the staff of that superlative show is beyond me. The only writing credit I know of theirs is an odious comic adaptation called GEN-13.

THE OATH, Touchstone TV, Gary Tieche, Marc Platt.

Two doctors fighting the system at an HMO hospital.

I can hear the pompous speechifying already. Good cause, but I hope they broaden their horizons. The one-line tag reminds me of a certain tune sung by fictional senator Bulworth.

LARRY GELBART PROJECT, Touchstone TV, Larry Gelbart.

Sprawling family soap.

The man behind the TV version of M*A*S*H comes back to TV. Story sounds watchable in its blandly pedestrian minimalism. Itll be good to actually have something current to praise ol Larry with, and maybe this will allow us to forgive him for BEDAZZLED.


ALLISON ANDERS PROJECT, DreamWorks/Greenblatt-Janollari, A. Anders, B. Greenblatt, D. Janollari.

Female parole officer adopts the child of one of her parolees.

Anders is a film director (GRACE OF MY HEART); shes one of those filmmakers who puts out movies every few years that no one sees.

The premise for this show sounds like a spoof-show on THE SIMPSONS or SEINFELD. I remember a similar movie or TV show about this; I think the man was a gruff cop and the kid was Asian.

CSI SPINOFF, CBS/Alliance Atlantis/Bruckheimer, J. Bruckheimer, A. Zuiker, A. Donahue, C. Mendelsohn.

Crime-scene investigators working in Miami.

Bruckheimer didnt need to watch Dick Wolf to learn that if something works once, itll work twice. They did make three BEVERLY HILLS COP movies, didnt they?

HACK, Pariah, David Koepp, Gavin Polone.

Ex-cop who works as a taxi driver and helps people.

Had not heard about this project, but Im excited by the possibility of seeing undiluted, straight-from-the-cerebral-cortex material from PANIC ROOM and STIR OF ECHOES writer-director David Koepp.

Koepp, whose every movie script sells for millions of dollars, is a low-key talent who keeps getting better and better. The premise sounds effin ridiculous, but I hope this gives him an opportunity to direct whenever he feels the need, and I hope hes actively involved and one of the principal writers.

Ill be watching if it gets picked up.

GEORGETOWN, Big Ticket TV, Joe Dougherty, Al Ruddy, Gerry Rafshoon.

The real behind-the-scenes power in Washington.

You havent seen this before, have you?

JO, Spelling TV, Mike Newell, Cam Jones, Denise Di Novi.

Andie MacDowell as a veterinarian in Asheville, N.C.

Andie hooks up with her FOUR WEDDINGS AND A FUNERAL director to play a vet. Spelling, Newell and Di Novi would seem to promise a hit, but Newell screwed up PUSHING TIN and Di Novi just produced A WALK TO REMEMBER.

LEFTY, Brad Grey TV, Sylvester Stallone, Cynthia Cidre, Brad Grey.

About a nonconformist big-city priest.

Sly Stallone making a TV show about a big-city priest? Dont act like youre not drooling. Its good to know, by the way, that Stallone finally realizes his career is too infirm for the big screen. Now if he can only get in touch with Ah-nold.

PRESIDIO MED, John Wells Prods./Warner Bros. TV, J. Wells, L. Woodward, C. Chulack.

Medical drama set in San Francisco.

Wells and Chulack are the guys behind ER. They, like Wolf and Bruckheimer, must think that anything that works well once has to work as good the second time around. Since Wells and Co. have been shelling out big bucks, desperate to keep ER on till its cast needs one of the hospital rooms themselves, it doesnt make much sense for them to start another medical drama.

QUEENS SUPREME, Regency TV, K. Fox, E. Goldsmith-Thomas, D. Thomas.

Workplace dramedy set at a courthouse in Queens.

I can hear the accents already! As long as this doesnt try to capitalize on THE KING OF QUEENS (too late: look at the title) and tries not to hit every stereotype.

R.U.S.H, Studios USA, Paul Attanasio, Katie Jacobs.

Cop show set in South Central L.A. precinct.

I thought GIDEONS CROSSING, Pauls last show, was held aloft by its fine cast. What hurt it, I think, was Paul trying to be too cool. His exhaustively hip and smart dialogue ricocheted around the sterile halls so fast and furiously you could hardly catch what anyone was saying.

If Paul pulls back on the reins a bit, and stops trying to show off, Im sure his series -- thanks to his research into how things really go down -- will be as entertaining as his movie work.

VANISHED, Bruckheimer Films/Warner Bros. TV J. Bruckheimer, H. Steinberg, J. Littman.

Division of the FBI that focuses solely on missing persons.

If it works once, why not ten thousand times, right? Shows like this -- you can lump in all three LAW & ORDERs, CSI, CROSSING JORDAN -- live and die on their writing and acting. Littman, I believe, was a writer for LAW & ORDER. We have shows about the Special Victims squad, the Major Case squad, Crime Scene Investigation -- why not Missing Persons? If the writing is good, and the cast is hot, then the show can easily succeed.


EASTWICK, Warner Bros. TV, Jon Cowan, Robert Rovner, Jim Leonard.

15-year-old sons of the original witches of Eastwick.

There was no mention of John Updike or his novel, but I guess thats who they are mentioning when they say the original witches.

I suppose it could be fun -- and its cool to see the guys get the powers for once -- but I think the TV schedule is a little too overcrowded with this type of thing.

One of these teen paranormal shows will have to get the axe.

FAST LANE, Warner Bros. TV, McG, John McNamara, Daniel Rappaport.

Multiethnic STARSKY AND HUTCH for the 21st century.

Brought to you by McG -- you know, the hamburger that directs. Truthfully, as fun as CHARLIES ANGELS sometimes was, I dont think theyre going to get that on the small screen, where your budget tops out at three million dollars if youre lucky. You can have a movie as stupid as CHARLIES ANGELS because its two hours and over. Do the same thing every week and people become bored.

Well just have to wait and see. Could be a lark.

FIREFLY, 20th Century Fox TV, Joss Whedon.

Sci-fi drama about the crew of a small transport spaceship.

Sometimes I think Joss Whedon is just too damned full of himself. Not himself, really, but his show (BUFFY). I think you have to pull in twenty million viewers before you squawk.

Having said that, Joss is an amazingly talented writer (check out a review I wrote of two early scripts by him here). And this, next to HACK, is probably the show that tantalizes me the most. A big, loud sci-fi drama from Whedon -- on a real network, with a real budget. Im in, thats for sure. Hopefully, this will replace the faltering DARK ANGEL.

JOHN DOE, Regency TV, Brandon Camp, Mike Thompson, Mimi Leder.

Amnesiac knows everything in the world except who he is.

From the hacks that brought you the worst spec script ever sold for over a million dollars, STEINBECKS POINT OF VIEW, comes yet another show about a guy who is searching out something mysterious. These guys write the same thing over and over again: STEINBECK had a guy traveling to his old home because of a feeling; their new movie, DRAGONFLY, has the same idea (the man just doesnt understand this odd feeling); and now we have JOHN DOE, where a man doesnt know who he is. Great.

Mimi Leder (director of DEEP IMPACT) has my sympathies.

KEEN EDDIE, Paramount Network TV, Simon West, Joel Wyman, Warren Littlefield.

Cop goes to U.K. to solve the mystery that ruined his career.

You see Simon Wests name and you turn away, and then you see Joel Wymans name and look back. West is the worst big-budget director (see TOMB RAIDER) working. Wyman wrote THE MEXICAN, which was half a cool movie. Wyman is hardly a guarantee, but his association elevates this property out of the stink-pile a few inches.

SECRET SERVICE PROJECT, 20th Century Fox TV, Jeff Rake.

Ensemble drama about Washington-based Secret Service agents.

Im snoring. Besides being boring, this show will give terrorists new ideas on how to kill our President.

SAVE THE LAST DANCE, Paramount Network TV, T. Johnson, R. Cort, D. Madden, D. Pyne.

Based on the 2001 movie.

You thought it couldnt get any worse...and then SAVE THE LAST DANCE (the TV show!) assailed your eyes. Heh-heh-heh.

Movie-to-TV crossovers (sorry, M*A*S*H) never really work. And I doubt this one does.

TIME TUNNEL, 20th Century Fox TV/Regency TV, R. Ravich, T. Holland, K. Burns, J. Jashni, A. Lazar, S. Allen.

Based on Irwin Allens '60s TV series.

I found the following description of the original on-line:

The most expensive television show on the air in 1966 was THE TIME TUNNEL, an Irwin Allen production that debuted Friday night, September 6th. This high-profile ABC failure lasted only one season.

THE TIME TUNNEL was the story of Dr. Tony Newman (James Darren) and Dr. Doug Phillips (Robert Colbert), two research scientists who developed the top secret Time Tunnel -- only to become lost, tumbling among the infinite corridors of time. Manning the Time Tunnel are Whit Bissell as General Heywood Kirk, John Zaremba as Dr. Raymond Swaim, Wesley Lau as security officer Jiggs, and Lee Meriwether as Dr. Ann McGregor.

THE TIME TUNNEL was unique in the fact that the regular supporting characters almost never got to work with the two lead actors, and consequently they had little to do but yell "Tony!" and "Doug!" at the tunnel while they push(ed) the buttons and turn the dials on the surplus NASA computers that made up most of the set.

The setup is hardly surefire, and Randy Ravich is the man who brought the world the wasteful THE ASTRONAUTS WIFE, so who knows.


ARTHUR, NBC Studios, Graham Yost, Remi Aubuchon.

A look at the famed king's early years.

Ugh. Not my cup of tea. These types of shows never work because they are so hard to write intelligently. Yost is a high-priced feature-film writer. (See next entry.)

BOOMTOWN, NBC Studios, Graham Yost.

L.A.-based cop show.


Its impossible to get even an impression from the curt description of the show, but Ill give Yost the benefit of the doubt. (And now I whisper this: seems to be way too many cop shows set for the air.)

KINGPIN, Spelling TV/NBC Studios, David Mills.

Drug lord and his Mexico-based trafficking operation.

Im sick of seeing drug dealers and how they oh-so expertly subvert the law. However, David Mills is a mad genius. He was my favorite writer on NYPD BLUE (he did truly amazing work over there) and he recently wrote and produced the HBO mini-season (thats right, mini-season) THE CORNER.

The layout of its plan doesnt hold much interest for me, but Mills is an excellent writer. And because of his past work, I think this is the pilot and show to watch out for in the future.

MISS AMERICAN PIE, Studios USA/NBC Studios, Jonathan Prince, Dick Clark.

Family drama set against the time and music of the '60s.

Anything Dick Clark is behind cant be good.

MISTER STERLING, Studios USA/NBC Studios, Lawrence O'Donnell.

Idealistic, naive man in his 30s becomes a U.S. senator.

Dont you just hate it when youre an idealist and youre going along, floating on your lofty ideals, when -- hey! howd I get here? -- you wake up in the senate? And you have to deal with all the perfidy and backstabbing and back-room-dealing and that pesky campaign-finance reform bill?

ST. GEORGES, NBC Studios, Tommy Lynch.

Big-city family goes to work on an African game preserve.

Well, at least its original. I hope its a drama and not a stupid comedy. The idea is loopy, but at least its different.

WAR STORIES, NBC Studios/Industry Entertainment, Peter Noah, Keith Addis, Emile Levisetti.

Jeff Goldblum stars as a war correspondent.

TV is cooler than ever, but a movie star starring in his or her own TV show is still a sign your career is over. Goldblum follows his ex-wife, G. Davis, onto the small screen for a show that will probably last as long as hers did.

ZERO EFFECT, Warner Bros.TV/Castle Rock, Jake Kasdan, Walon Green.

Based on the 1998 feature about an offbeat private detective

No one really saw the original, but it does feature an interesting character that seems more suited for TV. Walon Green, who wrote one of my favorite scripts, CRUSADE, and worked on NYPD BLUE, brings experience and talent to the table. If the writing makes the grade, this could develop into a good show. I love detective movies and offbeat humor. Whats better, you ask, than a detective-offbeat-humor sandwich? And I say to you: I just dont know, junior.

Thats all of them. Some -- such as the CSI spinoff, FIREFLY, R.U.S.H -- are secured for a TV-screen appearance. Others will never be seen and end up in those TV shows that never made it books.

Well have to wait and see who makes the cut.

I guess the edge goes to NBC. Out of the eight pilots listed, Id watch (based on the little info here) three of them. Out of the eight Fox shows, Id look in on two. Out of the ten CBS shows? Count me in for three. And in last place: with its thirteen pilots, ABC has the biggest selection, but the offers are hardly pukka. Id watch three of the pilots based on what we find here.

(This doesnt figure in the comedy pilots.)

Feel free to drop me a line with your own thoughts at:

-- Darwin Mayflower

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