In this week’s edition of The Runway, we look at CBS’ slate of 2014 comedy pilots. Will the Tiffany Network go with safe and familiar? I think you already know the answer. But find out below.
CBS has what I think fits the definition of a “Champagne Problem”: too many reasonably successful comedies and not enough slots for them.
It’s easy to ridicule CBS comedies: they’re lazy, formulaic, often crass. But they also get ratings. Generating the network a lot of money in first run ad dollars and the studios behind them a lot of money in syndication. And the top brass is shrewd too: witness the record TBS syndication deal “2 Broke Girls” got after one season, right before the show’s ratings started to plummet.
So it’s easy to see why showrunners want to set their pilots up at CBS. But success breeds problems. And the champagne problem I alluded to earlier comes in the form of limited programming slots. Les Moonves just last month indicated he’ll likely only pick up two new comedies for the Fall (replacing departing “How I Met Your Mother” and cancelled “The Crazy Ones”). Factor in maybe one mid-season pickup — they probably need to groom something to replace “Two and a Half Men” once that show no longer makes financial sense — and you have a very small window of opportunity if you are a showrunner wanting to get on the air at CBS.
And here’s the thing: CBS probably has the strongest network slate of pilots this season (with Fox a close second). So it’s gonna be a dogfight. You better order two of those mini-alcohol bottles as we go through this year’s CBS pilot greenlights and assess their chances:
“Cuz-Bros” – Strong pedigree — created by David Caspe (“Happy Endings”), non-writing EP’d by Jamie Tarses (“Wilfred”), directed by Pamela Fryman (“How I Met Your Mother”), starring Geoff Stults (the underrated “Enlisted”). Odd couple pairing of cool guy having to live with his weirdo cousin. The problem — CBS also has in-development “Odd Couple” with an even stronger lead pairing and this script wasn’t as good as that one. Sorry cuz.
“Good Session” – Confession time: I think James Roday is the funniest actor currently on television (close second goes to Andre Braugher). Not too many people know James because he has been on “Psych” seemingly forever. That will change. This is a premise that has legs: couple enters counseling before deciding to have a baby thinking most things in their life are OK. Counseling proves that wrong. Writing structure is solid and I’m sure this will get a nice joke punch-up. My only hesitancy: this is single camera and CBS axed “The Crazy Ones” last season despite so-so ratings.
“How I Met Your Dad” – Love or hate the “How I Met Your Mother” finale, it got people talking. And that’s a good thing for this project. The set-up has some fatigue and the script has some flaws, but the brand might have too much buzz to pass on this. Throw in the excitement over Greta Gerwig doing TV, and I think CBS gives this a shot.
“The McCarthys” – I liked this last year when it got passed on. But there’s simply too much competition for this one to make it to air. Last season would have been the season. Maybe Sony and CBS can sell it to TBS or USA.
“The Mistake” – Hailing from “Friends” writers and married couple Shana Goldberg-Meehan and Scott Silveri (plus Silveri’s writing partner, David Mandel). Premise is a couple thinking they’re done raising kids finds out they have one on the way (spoiler: actually, make that two on the way). So basically “Father of the Bride, Part 2” as a tv show, without the adult kid also being pregnant. An OK premise and some pretty good jokes, but too much competition for this to stand out. Would have been better set up at NBC.
“More Time With the Family” – Tom Papa is a pretty funny stand-up and the script reads OK, if not too familiar (working guy quits job to spend more time with the family). Half the scenes take place at his new job at the diner, and those didn’t work for me. I think this is simply too conventional to break through.
“The Odd Couple” – Matthew Perry and Thomas Lennon in the titular roles. The script follows the sitcom/play/movie it is based on very closely. The jokes are perfect for multi-cam and Lennon was the best thing on “Sean Saves the World”. I think this is the clear winner against “Cuz-Bros”, but maybe CBS shocks the world going for the younger demo odd couple pilot? Just kidding.
“Save the Date” – Maggie Lawson plays a woman who books a wedding venue without a person to marry her. Spends next 88 episodes searching for the right man (is what the showrunner envisioned, I’m sure). Writing has some OK jokes and I thought Lawson was the best thing on short-lived “Back in the Game”, but she can’t carry a show with such a difficult premise to overcome.
“Untitled Jim Gaffigan” – I liked this pilot last year. I like this pilot this year. I just don’t think it will get picked up. Gaffigan is a funny guy — youtube “Hot Pocket” & “Jim Gaffigan” for an example — and the jokes in the pilot are solid. But the premise is familiar and Gaffigan doesn’t generate enough heat for this to excite CBS brass.
So to conclude…
What Will Get Picked Up: Good Session, The Odd Couple, How I Met Your Dad
What Should Get Picked Up: I’d swap out How I Met Your Dad for Jim Gaffigan, but I know how the ratings world works, so I don’t think that will happen.
Stay tuned next week as we delve into ABC dramas, and see if they have any Shonda Rhimes offshoots in the works…