the early word

New York Television Festival: Which Pilots Are Ready for Prime Time?

Clockwise from top left: Dear Harvard, Ex-Pats, The Happy Hour, The GauntletCourtesy of NYTVF

This weekend marks the close of the New York Television Festival’s third year, and between major network premieres and a nice new space at New World Stages, this latest edition has gained some prestige. But what about the quality (and marketability) of the 28 independently made pilots screening at the Fest? Wondering if that $85 festival day pass is worth it? A few of the contenders, and their chances of leaping from a small fest to the small screen, below.

Dear Harvard
The pitch: A young scholarship student, whose father is currently imprisoned for shady hedge-fund dealing, blogs while attending an exclusive UES high school. Her goal? The Ivy League.
The reality: USC film school graduate (and former Morgan Stanley investment banker) Anne Jarmain’s well-written teenage soap opera already has a number of gripping plot points. The closing question — “Friendship is more important than love, right?” — nails the sweetly troubled earnestness of youth. Nice!
The future: Ripe teenage girls in Catholic-schoolgirl uniforms pining over boys from the public school … what’s not to like? We could totally see this on next year’s CW schedule.

The Gauntlet
The pitch: Reality TV in which a co-worker with attitude challenges a workmate to see who’s better at the job.
The reality: The premise, from promotional video director Scott Patterson, sounds dumb, but in actuality, the pilot — which pitted two ice sculptors and then two Zamboni drivers against each other — delivered richly rewarding TV, both educational and strange.
The future: If someone from Bravo or PBS attends the screening, maybe it’s got a shot. We’d love to see an episode spotlighting balloon-animal makers and shit-talking manicurists.

The pitch: Cartoon shorts about a bunch of superviolent superheroes.
The reality: This is the festival’s only animated selection, and though it’s more visually engaging than South Park, it’s also a lot less sharp.
The future: Match up Staten Island–based animator John Bellotti Jr. with a decent writer who can bring a little sass to his sadism and you’ve got the makings of a great viral video. He’s not ready for prime time, though.

Ex-Pats: Bangalore
The pitch: English speakers abroad in India struggle with the local culture and each other.
The reality: The show steers away from the expected culture-clash laughs and keeps its satirical eye on the self-absorbed main characters. A former fixture at the Peoples Improv Theater in Chelsea, creator Kevin Napier pulled together his cast by teaching improvisational comedy classes in Bangalore.
The future: It doesn’t matter how funny this show is; prime-time American television isn’t exactly known for showing a sustained interest in foreign lands. That’s what CNN is for.

The Happy Hour
The pitch: Two bartenders — cute Naren Young and smug Jacob Briars — travel the world’s great cities, checking out the nightlife and making signature drinks.
The reality: The cocktail recipes are rushed through and never explained succinctly. As the two co-hosts rush from restaurant to bar to beach to handbag designer’s home, you can’t help but want more thinking, less drinking.
The future: Is it possible a show like this doesn’t already exist? If not, despite this pilot’s shortcomings, this one smells like money. —Drew Pisarra

New York Television Festival: Which Pilots Are Ready for Prime Time?