New Series Pilots: The Good, The Bad, And The Disappointing

My friends and family think it's pretty cool that I get to watch all the new series pilots before they air on television.  It actually is pretty cool -- but not always fun, having to watch 30 or so pilots over a few days.

Before discussing some of the best and worst, there are a few things worth noting: 

·       The pilot is essentially a sales tool to sell the series to networks and advertisers.  They often throw in everything but the kitchen sink (and sometimes that too). 

·       A pilot looks better in a conference room or theater (or at home on a DVD) than in your living room, when it will actually air following something and opposite many other series. 

·       It is much easier to predict a flop than a success.  Yes, I can project that a given new show might win its time period, but almost all big-time hits come out of nowhere and surprise the pundits.



That said, here are some of my thoughts on the new crop of fall broadcast series. 

The Bad

Free Agents (NBC):  This may be the worst pilot I've seen in my 30 years of analyzing television.  I'm surprise NBC would schedule this at all, much less at 8:30 pm.  I was embarrassed to watch it with my wife and 12-year-old son in the room.  I shut it off after five minutes for later viewing.  It didn't get any better.  The cast had no chemistry, the writing was bad, and it seemed like the whole pilot was just one long crude joke.  So bad it makes the canceled "Outsourced" seem like brilliant comedy.

I Hate My Teenage Daughter FOX):  I also hated the parents and just about everything else about this comedy.   

The Disappointing

Charlie's Angels (ABC):  As much as I wanted to like the pilot, I just couldn't.  It's not just that it seemed kind of cheesy in today's world or that the Angels had no charisma.  Well, maybe that is it.  Dialogue like "We're not cops, we're Angels" didn't help.  I also didn't like that instead of just being honest rookie cops recruited by Charlie, they were now a former thief, a street racer, and a cop that got involved in corruption.  Rather than making it edgy, it just seemed derivative (only former bad guys can catch current bad guys -- see "Leverage," "Breakout Kings," etc.).

The Playboy Club (NBC):  The pilot was nice to look at but surprisingly not fun to watch.  Makes you realize how difficult it is to do a stylized period piece such as "Mad Men."  Hope it gets better.  There should be a lot to work with here.

Up All Night/Whitney (NBC):  Since my expectations weren't that high, I guess I can't technically call these disappointments.  "Up All Night" seems like something out of the late 1980s/early 1990s, when working moms and stay-at-home dads were still treated as novelties by the media.  But Maya Rudolph, Christina Applegate, and Will Arnett are appealing.  The show is being retooled, so I'll reserve judgment. 

"Whitney" lead, Whitney Cummings, has star potential, but not in this poorly written, cliché-filled sitcom.  There is also little chemistry between her and her on-screen boyfriend, Chris D'Elia.

The Good

Revenge (ABC):  Large-scale soaps haven't worked in recent years, but this one is juicy and has a good cast.  But it is up against "CSI" and "Law & Order: SVU" and has a weak lead-in ("Happy Endings").

Once Upon a Time (ABC):  Pilot was better than I expected.  Innovative, fun, and can be watched by the whole family.  No competing dramas in the Sunday 8-9pm slot could help.

Pan Am (ABC):  ABC should nourish this one.  Excellent ensemble cast and many potential storylines.  Opposite football and "CSI: Miami" might make it tough for this period drama to take off.  I hope ABC gives it time.

Unforgettable (CBS):  CBS finds yet another spin on the procedural drama.  Poppy Montgomery shines as a police detective who has a rare condition that enables her to remember virtually every moment of her life.  A lot will depend on how the supporting cast gels around her (which was hard to tell just from the pilot). 

Person of Interest (CBS):  The pilot was good and Michael Emerson ("Lost") is always watchable.  CBS is so high on this J.J. Abrams action drama about a former CIA operative who teams up with a reclusive billionaire to stop crimes before they happen that it moved "CSI" out of its long-time Thursday perch to make room.  That does not guarantee success, however.

Prime Suspect (NBC):  This reimagining of the British TV hit stars Maria Bello as a New York homicide detective.  She does have a lot of charisma.  The pilot started out slow but grew on me.  It seems a bit dated, with a female cop not being accepted by her male colleagues.  Whether true or not in the real world, TV series like "The Closer," Rizzoli & Isles," and "CSI," among others, show it to no longer be true in most television dramas. 

Terra Nova (FOX):  The pilot for this large-scale sci-fi series was excellent.  It quickly set up the premise and introduced the major characters.  Not sure if it will make a great miniseries or weekly series.  As long as the special effects are used to enhance the story rather than the other way around, it has potential. 

New Girl (FOX):  This is the best new comedy on the schedule.  It also gets the enviable post-"Glee" time slot.  It seems compatible with "Raising Hope," and Zooey Deschanel is excellent as the star.  Only problem is that much of what made the pilot funny will no longer be as relevant by the second episode.  So we'll need to see a few more episodes to see if it can be maintained as a weekly series. 

Ringer (CW):  Sarah Michelle Gellar is compelling in her portrayal of twin sisters, each with equally complicated and dangerous lives.  Should get decent viewer sampling from her former "Buffy" fans, but it's a completely different show (so we'll see how many stay with it).

So these are the good, the bad, and the disappointing.  They account for slightly more than half of the new fall broadcast series.  What did I leave out?  The borderline shows.  Sometimes a couple of those actually get the highest ratings.  Will Tim Allen be able to resurrect his "Home Improvement" success in ABC's new comedy, "Last Man Standing"?  Will one of CBS's new sitcoms, "2 Broke Girls" or "How to be a Gentleman" break out?  Will "Allen Gregory" become another FOX animation hit?  Will CW's "Secret Circle" be another "Charmed" or "Supernatural"?  We just won't know until late September.

2 comments about "New Series Pilots: The Good, The Bad, And The Disappointing".
Check to receive email when comments are posted.
  1. Thomas Siebert from BENEVOLENT PROPAGANDA, September 1, 2011 at 3:29 p.m.

    No way there can be this many "good" pilots. Just not possible. Everybody else I've talked to tells me this is one of the worst years ever.

  2. Steve Sternberg from The Sternberg Report, September 1, 2011 at 4:06 p.m.

    @ Thomas - I think they are wrong. While good pilots do not guarantee success, there are some good ones this year.

Next story loading loading..