It’s been a pretty lousy fall for the broadcast networks, with precious few breakout hits. But there’s no use looking back: In TV’s never-ending circle of life, it’s now the development season, when networks must brush off their current crushing disappointment and commission prospective-pilot scripts for what they hope will be better days in 2011–12. As usual, the huge crop of potential shows can be separated into ever-recurring categories, such as reboots, the next Lost, the next Glee, and that smallest of categories, the original idea. We’ve scoured the network’s tracking reports and divided all of the possible projects by these familiar genres, but before you get too upset (or excited) by some of these ideas, remember: The majority of them will never even get filmed. But then again, at this time last year, nobody probably thought $#*! My Dad Says would get made either, so take that cautionary tale to heart.
Hawaii Five-0 and Nikita aren’t runaway hits, Knight Rider quickly crashed, and NBC’s Rockford Files reboot didn’t even get off the ground last spring. So that can only mean one thing for next season: More remakes!
New ABC boss Paul Lee seems particularly taken with presold commodities: His network is mulling revivals of The Prince of Tides, True Lies, the British drama MI-5, and The Incredible Hulk, as well as a Romeo and Juliet update that’ll likely be more Baz than Will. Lee has also green-lit casting on the umpteenth remake of Charlie’s Angels, originally put in development by predecessor Steve McPherson.
Meanwhile, NBC has given Bryan Fuller (Pushing Daisies) permission to rethink The Munsters, while it hasn’t given up on Rockford (or an Americanization of Prime Suspect). The Peacock’s also working on Emerald City, a half-hour comedy set in New York that sounds like The Wizard of Oz married with Friends. Fox, meanwhile, is hoping viewers might be interested in Hitch, even without Will Smith and Kevin James. CBS has two of the oddest-sounding reincarnations: It’s developing the old seventies hour Wild, Wild West (Battlestar Galactica’s Ron Moore is overseeing) and a TV version of the long-running teens-do-the-dardnest-things comic strip Zits. And finally, TNT is reworking Dallas, and David E. Kelley is working on a reimagination of Wonder Woman for Warner Bros. TV. Apparently the nets are holding off on updates of Funky Winkerbean and Manimal until next year, waiting until they age like fine wine.
The Next Lost
While The Event has been pretty much a non-event, networks still think there’s a hole left to be plugged in the world of serialized mythology-packed dramas. Fox is betting big on Terra Nova, the big-budget dino-drama from exec producer Steven Spielberg set to debut in May. The network also has high hopes for the very cool-sounding Locke and Key, the almost Harry Potter–esque fantasy Vulture broke news of last August. The network is also hopeful for Alcatraz, the prison-themed hour from J.J. Abrams that we hear has a major sci-fi twist yet to be revealed.
Elsewhere, somebody at NBC clearly dug Inception: The network is working on S.A.N.D. Men, which focuses on folks who enter your dreams in order to help you battle your nightmares. The Peacock has also ordered a script for a sci-fi show which would star Heroes alum Milo Ventimiglia as a man who never sleeps (no, it’s not the Chuck Lorre story).
From the Kindle Screen to Your Screen
Vulture remembers when former Entertainment Weekly writer A.J. Jacobs was just another ink-stained reporter hanging out at the TV Critics Association press tour, trying to grab a quote from Tim Allen. Now, two of his best sellers are in development as feature films, while a third — My Life As an Experiment — is a potential NBC comedy being produced by the freaky combo of Jack Black and Ben Silverman. Even Jacobs’s Esquire articles are being optioned: CBS is eyeing a piece of his, “Raising Men,” for a possible half-hour comedy about an alpha male learning about manliness from his two sons, to be produced by Jacobs doppelgänger Samuel L. Jackson.
NBC also continues its efforts to turn Augusten Burroughs’s Home Shopping Network–themed Sellevision into a series: Having failed to make a one-hour drama stick last year, the Peacock is now redeveloping it as a half-hour. NBC’s also using Gretchen Rubin’s The Happiness Project as the basis for a new series showcase for Kristin Davis and is working on an adaptation of Alisa Valdes-Rodriguez’s Latina-themed The Dirty Girls Social Club. Vulture hears that one network is considering a procedural hour inspired by the stories of Edgar Allan Poe. The Alphabet’s also been trying to turn U.K. author Danny Wallace’s Awkward Situations for Men into a half-hour (a pilot green-lit last year is being redeveloped), while Darren Star — whose last big series was the flop Cashmere Mafia — is working on a TV version of Kim Gatlin’s soapy Good Christian Bitches.
CBS, always up for a new way to tell crime stories, has tasked two CSI producers with adapting best sellers for TV: Carol Mendelsohn is overseeing a drama based on author Thomas Perry’s Jane Whitefield novels, while Anthony Zuiker is shepherding a spinoff of the Jason Bourne novels called Treadstone (it’s based on the black-ops division of Robert Ludlum’s books). The Eye is also working on a show based on True Blood author Charlaine Harris’s Harper Connelly series, about a woman who can see the dead’s final moments.
More than a few suits dream of finding a relationship dramedy in the Sex and the City/Ally McBeal vein. ABC, which has never given up the fight (R.I.P., Samantha Who), is trying again with Bad Taste in Men with Jennifer Love Hewitt. It’s exactly what you think it is. CBS is developing the exact same show, only without Hewitt, and calling it The True Adventures of a Terrible Dater. (It’s based on an upcoming book.) And because men can suck at dating and relationships, too, there’s the Ricky Blitt–penned comedy Still Not Married in the works at NBC. Fox, meanwhile, has comics Chris Titus and Patton Oswalt in separate half-hours about men trying to find themselves after nasty divorces.
Just Add Internet!
Critical drubbing and cries of creative bankruptcy aside, $#*! My Dad Says has proved a hit for CBS. And so it has only encouraged the networks to mine more Twitter feeds and websites for content. CBS, for example, has shows based on the Twitter-ific Dear Girls Above Me and Shh … Don’t Tell Steve. Fox is working with Adam Sandler’s Happy Madison on a comedy based on the website Texts From Last Night, while ABC thinks book/website Awkward Family Photos somehow deserves to be a TV show.
Big Names Behind the Scenes
Some big-name stars are coming to TV. Well, not their faces; rather their names on the credits, thanks to shows from their production companies: Vulture has learned that Queen Latifah has a medical drama in the works, while Steve Buscemi’s 87th Precinct is at NBC and the Robert De Niro cop drama at CBS. If the shows do go, expect lots of coy, “And who knows? [FILL IN STAR NAME HERE] may pop up on an episode or two!” publicity comments. So get excited for that.
If You Like _____, You’ll Love _______!
And now, a list of projects clearly meant to — what’s a good euphemism for “rip off”? — “evoke” current or recent hits. So if you like …
… The Good Wife, you might be into ABC’s Afterwives, an ABC drama about the spouses of men accused of white-collar crimes.
… Ghost Whisperer, how about NBC’s Ghost Angeles, which reunites Josh Schwartz with Rachel Bilson, and has Bilson playing a woman who can talk to the dead? (See also ABC’s Ghostworld and Fox’s untitled Rick Eid project, about a D.A. whose secret weapon is … a ghost!)
… Mad Men, you could get a kick out of ABC’s Pan Am, a sixties-set drama about the now-defunct airline. NBC’s Playboy Club–set Bunny Tales could also satisfy your retro jones.
… Glee, you could be into the musical-themed Camp, which hails from Freaks and Geeks alums Gabe Sachs and Jeff Judah. The CW also has a couple of rock-and-roll dramas in the works.
… Party Down, try NBC’s Party People, which focuses on the sad sacks who work as entertainers at kiddie parties. Appropriately, Party King Ben Silverman is producing.
Keep It Gay
Viewers’s easy acceptance of gay characters on Glee and Modern Family is causing development execs to take notice: Vulture hears that former Frasier scribe Joe Keenan, for example, has a half-hour in the works at NBC about a husband and wife who remain pals even after their marriage breaks up once he comes out. The Peacock is also working on Alternative Family, a Jamie Tarses–produced half-hour about a woman who raises a baby with the help of her two gay friends, as well as a possible family sitcom in which a woman surprises her husband and three grown kids with the news that she’s a lesbian. Even conservative CBS is getting into the gay game: It’s got a half-hour from writer Michelle Nader (King of Queens) about a divorced mom who moves in with her gay best friend.
And wait, we even found some ideas that don’t fit into a familiar genre!
Some projects do manage to stand out because they’re just so … different. Based on execution, these ideas — if they ever move forward to the pilot or series stage — could either be the next Twin Peaks or a new Cop Rock. Battlestar Galactica’s Moore is also working on a Harry Potter–esque hour about a world where magic trumps science (no, Christine O’Donnell is not attached). NBC’s Zombies vs. Vampires continues the pop-culture fascination with both monster forms, while we’re kind of intrigued by I, P.I., the Paul Scheuring–penned hour about a cop who emulates action heroes from the sixties and seventies. Meanwhile, we’ll probably skip the untitled Neil Tolkin–Shawn Levy drama about kung fu cops — unless, of course, Sammo Hung can be brought out of retirement to star. As crazy as some of these shows sound, most Hollywood types would’ve laughed out loud two years ago at the idea that a show about singing high-school students could end up as America’s No. 1 scripted series. Now if only someone would laugh out loud at Outsourced.