In this week’s edition of The Runway, we look at the ABC’s slate of 2014 comedy pilots. Did reading any of them make for a super fun night? Find out below.
What do you think of when I say the words “comedy” and “ABC”? “Modern Family”, right? Before that ratings juggernaut came along, comedy was in a bit of a funk. “Seinfeld”, “Friends” and “Everybody Loves Raymond” had gone off the air. Reality tv was reaching its peak. And even brilliant single camera shows like “Arrested Development” weren’t finding an audience. Then along came a wonderful little show from Steve Levitan and Christopher Lloyd about what it’s like to be in a traditional non-traditional family.
ABC programming president Paul Lee inherited “Modern Family” from Steve McPherson’s tenure, a little bit of ratings manna. The gift that should have kept on giving. A lead-in that absolutely couldn’t fail at launching other comedies. And yet, it has. Repeatedly. The pairings with “Modern Family” have been suspect — “Happy Endings”, “Super Fun Night”, “Mixology”??? Meanwhile, fans of the likely-to-be-cancelled “Trophy Wife” cry out, “Why couldn’t we get the post ‘Modern Family’ timeslot?” The answer: only Paul Lee knows.
Let’s look at last pilot season’s comedy greenlights at ABC:
“Back in the Game” – cancelled early
“The Goldbergs” – likely to be renewed
“Mixology” – likely to be cancelled
“Super Fun Night” – will be cancelled
“Trophy Wife” – likely to be cancelled
Let’s go back even further to 2012:
“Family Tools” – cancelled
“How to Live With Your Parents” – cancelled
“Malibu Country” – cancelled
“Neighbors” – moved to Fridays this year and likely to be cancelled
What does all of this tell you? Outside of “The Goldbergs” — a modest ratings hit — every other show from the last two seasons will not be on the air in 2015. Yikes! They’re right — comedy is hard, dying is easy. What does all this mean for this pilot season though? Plenty of open spots for comedy. Particularly that plum one post “Modern Family”, which itself is starting to see some eroding ratings. So strap on your seatbelt as we go through this year’s pilot greenlights and asses their chances:
“Black-Ish” and “Keep it Together (aka Untitled Kevin Hart Pilot)” — I don’t mean to be racist in lumping these two together, but they’re both about what it means to be an African-American father in modern America. They’re both very well written. They both have recognizable stars (Anthony Anderson & Romany Malco). Only one of them has Kevin Hart agreeing to guest star though, so that’s why I give a slight nod to “Keep it Together” as a likely to be picked up to series.
“American Education” – A British remake. Paul Lee obviously has a predilection for UK imports (see 2013 pilots for “Family Tools” and “Only Fools and Horses”). This one finds an optimistic British teacher relocated to America to teach high school. Rosie Perez plays a feisty principal. With NBC already greenlighting “Mr. Robinson”, another fish-out-of-water teacher story, you have to wonder if there’s room for two on the air.
“Cristela” – Cristela is a popular young Latina comedian in real life, so not hard to see why ABC has interest. This is a pretty standard multi-cam about a girl overwhelmed with overbearing family and her first foray into the working world (albeit, at an unpaid internship). A lot will rest on ABC research’s numbers on Cristela’s awareness and likability, as the pilot doesn’t do too much to distinguish it from other similar multi-cams.
“Damaged Goods” – From the creator of “Awkward”, this is a very fast paced comedy a la “Happy Endings”, starring Anna Camp from “Pitch Perfect”. Would skew young in the demo, but if “Happy Endings” couldn’t survive, you kinda wonder how this one will?
“Far East Orlando (f/k/a/ Fresh Off the Boat)” – Liked this one. EP Nahnatchka Khan is very well liked. The question — will viewers accept another nostalgia comedy with “The Goldbergs” and “Surviving Jack” already on the air? A largely Asian cast does give this one some uniqueness though.
“Galavant” – Nobody ever said Paul Lee isn’t willing to take chances. I mean this is the man that greenlit “Work It”. This is a comedy musical that will be filmed in England. It is different, and different is memorable. But I don’t think this is necessarily what America is clamoring for.
“Irreversible” – Haven’t read it, but it’s an Israeli import that will star David Schwimmer and has Peter Tolan as an EP. That’s a good pedigree.
“Saint Francis” – Haven’t read it. Multi-cam though, which hasn’t been a priority for ABC.
“Selfie” – Oof. From the creator of “Suburgatory”, this one gets a lot of mileage out of social media references and has a very unlikeable lead. At first, I thought America might not like that. But it has embraced Charlie Harper (“Two and a Half Men”) and Sheldon Cooper (“Big Bang Theory”), so you never know.
“Strange Calls” – A quirky Australian remake about a Boston cop exiled to Nantucket, who must pair up with a loony old man to investigate the seemingly paranormal. The script was utterly charming, but pretty small-scale compared with usual comedies.
“Untitled Brian Gallivan Project (Formerly Bambi Cottages)” – Starring Paul F. Tompkins and Molly Shannon as New Hampshire transplants who open a resort with their family. Gallivan is one to watch, but I liked his “McCarthys” pilot that will be reshot this year better.
“My Thoughts Exactly (Formerly Untitled Jeff Lowell)” – A redeveloped pilot from an earlier season where we get to listen to the inner thoughts of two characters as they court each other. Lacks the biting wit of Britian’s similarly themed “Peep Show”, this one would test America’s tolerance for voiceover.
“The Winklers” – Semi autobiographical look at a young man who marries into Henry Winkler’s family. Hilarity does ensue in this strong script. Question is does ABC want to greenlight a multi-cam this season after showing some reluctance previously?
So to conclude…
What Will Get Picked Up: “Black-Ish” OR “Keep It Together”, “The Winklers”, “Far East Orlando” (least sure about this one, possibly wishful thinking on my part) and “Irreversible” (just going off talent alone, as I haven’t read it)
What Should Get Picked Up: All of the Will Get Picked Up + “Strange Calls”