In this week’s edition of The Runway, we look at ABC’s slate of 2014 drama pilots. Is there another “Grey’s Anatomy” out there? Or has drama flatlined at the channel? Find out below.
ABC has succeeded lately with two types of dramas: female-skewing ones produced by Shonda Rhimes (“Scandal”/”Grey’s Anatomy”) and fantasy ones based on existing IP (“Once Upon a Time”/”Agents of S.H.I.EL.D.”). Even that latter category has suffered some setbacks — spinoff “Once Upon a Time in Wonderland” was cancelled after one season and S.H.I.E.L.D. has seen ratings declining since the premiere.
I know I said this is an important comedy development season for ABC. But drama development is probably even more important for them. Paul Lee must find hits. “Castle” and “Grey’s Anatomy” are aging and last development season was a complete washout (who didn’t see “Lucky 7” and “Killer Women” being DOA?)
So what am I particularly likely to give the greenlight to? Anything featuring strong career-oriented women. Perhaps a procedural with a standout character. Maybe an existing IP show that is more female-friendly than S.H.I.E.L.D.
The good news is they have lots of pilots to choose from. Let’s take a look at what Paul Lee will likely do.
“Agatha” – Right out of the gate we’re hitting two of my wants — career-minded female lead and a procedural with standout characters. The script hasn’t appeared online and none of the cast are A-listers, so I have some reservations. But concept is on the right track.
“American Crime” – EP’d by newly minted Academy Award winner John Ridley and starring Timothy Hutton and Felicity Huffman. Deals with the players involved in a racially charged trial. The writing is compelling. Feels very current. I know Paul Lee would love bumpers that say “from Academy Award winner John Ridley”. Features some meaty roles for Hispanics. Subject matter lends itself more for a closed end short season FX show than network. I can see good but not great ratings.
“Astronaut Wives Club” – Wisely pushed to next year’s midseason after the early series greenlight. Tricky subject matter that needs some nurturing.
“Clementine” – Revolves around a woman targeted for her supernatural powers. Kinda like NBC’s “Believe”, but with a woman instead of a little girl. And with some humor (she uses her psychic skills to clean up at poker, for example). The visions she has of the future are cool, and there’s some mystery surrounding her mother’s death that needs to be solved. I enjoyed reading this, I’m a little leery on who the audience for this is though.
“Exposed” – Mary Elizabeth Winstead plays a driven journalist in this Scandinavian remake. Two things really going for this: strong female role akin to the one in “House of Cards” and Mary Elizabeth Winstead. She has a natural charm that draws you in to any role she plays. Maybe her and Brit Marling for “True Detective” if this doesn’t get picked up? I thought the dialogue was strong and this is a fun character. Maybe the supporting cast needs a little fleshing out, but otherwise good to go.
“Forever” – Immortal medical examiner in New York City. We all know how “New Amsterdam” turned out, right? The flashbacks to the past are cool, but this would be a tough one for the marketing folks at ABC to stomach.
“How to Get Away with Murder” – Viola Davis + Shonda Rhimes (producer, but not writer) = automatic greenlight? Story revolves around law students and their criminal law professor. I’ll be honest — this was just OK. I mean, “Grey’s Anatomy” had a similar diverse cast of late 20 somethings with a few older adults thrown in, but it had more humor and felt like something to watch with friends. This doesn’t quite have the “talk about it next day at work” feel. But it’s Shonda, and we all know ABC owes her.
“Sea of Fire” – The sad and dangerous fallout from a porn website featuring three local teenage girls. Generally not a good sign when the first page of the script is a schematic of character relationships. But this was actually relatively easily to follow. The subject matter is certainly current. But this was dark and depressing. A good read, no doubt. But finding people to watch this every week will be tough.
“Secrets & Lies” – Based on Australian series, this has already been picked up for 10 episodes. Starring Ryan Phillippe as a dad wrongfully (so far) accused in the murder of a boy. I really liked this one. Read really interesting with some cool twists and turns. You feel bad for Ryan’s character, as not only is he wrongfully accused, but he also has a tough family life with wife and kid not liking him. Limited series likely, but I’m a fan.
“The Club” – This is the Susannah Grant/David O. Russell project that saw Russell drop out. Focuses on the upstairs/downstairs happenings at a country club. Straight to series order. The “upstairs/downstairs” idea with pilots might be reaching a saturation point, but I liked this. Had some “Desperate Housewives” vibes, which we know ABC would like to capture that lightning in a bottle again. We’ll see how it goes.
“Dangerous Liaisons” – Richard LaGravenese EP’d and starring Katie Holmes. About rich socialites and what happens when love and sex and power comes into play. I haven’t read this one, but there have been similar series picked up recently and none of them have made it past one season. Good brand name and talent attached, but faces an uphill climb.
“The Visitors” – From Spielberg’s Amblin, this one has aliens visiting Earth (I know, shocker). I kinda dug this. Foreboding action. Strong government characters. Feels like a limited series, but wouldn’t be difficult to market.
“Warriors” – Medical show focused on state-of-the-art rehabilitation of returning soldiers. The writing was solid and felt authentic. Medical shows tend to ebb and flow in popularity. I think we’re in the ebb right now.
So to conclude…
What Will Get Picked Up: American Crime, Astronaut Wives Club (already picked up for midseason), Exposed, Secrets & Lies (already picked up), The Club (already picked up), The Visitors
What Should Get Picked Up: Haven’t read Agatha, but that might be able to take the place of American Crime or The Visitors
Stay tuned next week as we delve into NBC dramas, and see if the next “Blacklist” is currently filming…