In this week’s edition of The Runway, we look at the Fox’s slate of 2014 comedy pilots. Are any of them future Golden Globe winners? Find out below.
Two recent developments at Fox will affect comedy there going forward: 1. Chairman Kevin Reilly said Fox will no longer fully participate in pilot season, opting for year round development and straight-to-series orders and 2. Fox renewed “The Mindy Project”. Let’s look at each individually.
Pilot season makes no sense for networks. They have to compete with each other for showrunner and acting talent, vastly overpaying for each. They have to hustle to make decisions prior to the May upfronts. And they have to make way more pilots than are necessary. All good things for writers, directors and actors. But bad for the networks.
Fox doesn’t want this to happen anymore. So they’ll develop shows year round (which makes sense — especially after “Under the Dome” performed strongly this summer for CBS). And they’ll order more straight-to-series projects, instead of doing pilots. This is more questionable. Their last straight-to-series was “Dads”, a ratings and critical failure, which in all honesty was probably only greenlit to appease exec producer Seth MacFarlane (who has made hundreds of millions of dollars for Fox). To prevent future “Dads”, Reilly has indicated he’ll request additional scripts to the pilot before giving straight-to-series orders. Though this does assuage a lot of the risk, how will you know if a cast is going to gel?
The other major development was the renewal of “The Mindy Project”. Why is this important? Because the show has very low ratings, but performs especially well in the demo of young, financially well-off females. This means that smart comedies, even without broad appeal, might be able to find a welcoming home at a place like Fox, as long as they connect with a particularly desirable demo. Don’t get me wrong — Fox would take “Big Bang Theory” or “Modern Family” over “The Mindy Project” in a heartbeat. But they’ll attract some really strong showrunners at Fox who maybe don’t want to go as broad with their humor.
The Fox slate looks fairly strong this season, especially compared with ABC and NBC. But there is limited spacing. Who will survive this battle royale to make it to the air? Kick off your shoes and lower your window shade as we go through this year’s Fox pilot greenlights and assess their chances:
“Cabot College” – The second project we’ll look at from EP Tina Fey. This appears to be a straight-to-series commitment. The premise has an all girl college admitting men for the first time. Complications ensue. The joke telling in the pilot is solid, but things do hue a little broad (this is multi-cam, after all). Margaret Cho is the only recognizable name in the cast, so the writing will have to become a little tighter in subsequent episodes and the cast will really have to gel to get past the initial episode order.
“Dead Boss” – Based on a British series, this comedy has the unique premise of a woman incarcerated for killing her boss having to prove her innocence with help from her sister. Some comedy heavyweights in front of the camera including Jane Krakowski, Amy Sedaris, Rachel Dratch and David Cross (though, spoiler, he plays the dead boss). Not to get too granular, but most of the talent is very close to aging out of the 18-49 demo, and Fox tends to go towards the younger part of the demo. The writing is funny and premise is different, but this feels slightly more like a cable show (TBS?) than a normal Fox series. This one might get short end of the stick with limited spacing.
“Fatrick” – From Academy Award winning team of Nat Faxon and Jim Rush, this follows a formerly fat guy dealing with now being good looking (played as an adult by Zach Cregger, who I’ve always liked but hasn’t been able to quite breakthrough to star status). I said last week that probably this or “Ellen More or Less” at NBC would get a greenlight. I changed my mind. The premise lends itself to some good pilot jokes, but this feels like it would get tiring as a series. Plus adult Patrick is kind of a jerk and the ensemble doesn’t have any breakouts. Too limited spacing at Fox despite a well-written, fun pilot.
“No Place Like Home (fka Here’s Your Damn Family)” – Some serious star power with Jane Kaczmarek and Jon Heder, this one finds a man-child living at home who must adjust when his mom suddenly remarries a guy that has teenage kids. Heder’s already been in a movie with a very similar premise — “Mama’s Boy”. This one just didn’t work for me unfortunately. Felt like something that would have gone to series in the early 2000s, but not now.
“Last Man on Earth” – Straight-to-series written and starring Will Forte and directed by uber hot “Brooklyn Nine-Nine” directors Phil Lord and Chris Miller. Will be a midseason 2014-2015 comedy set in post apocalyptic America. With that talent package, Fox probably literally greenlit the show the minute the group stepped in the room, assuming they even had to do to show up on the lot. I haven’t read the script, but I have yet to dislike a Lord & Miller project.
“Mulaney” – Straight-to-series, this was picked up in turnaround from NBC and tweaked ever so slightly. I believe this is a short order, but Mulaney fits in well with the demo Fox is going for. I liked the NBC pilot written and filmed last year and I like the Fox version as well. The question is will America embrace or shrug off John Mulaney? Could go either way, as he does come off a bit smug, but couldn’t the same be said of an early Jerry Seinfeld?
“Sober Companion” – Stars Justin Long and Nick Frost as a lawyer forced to pair up with a sober companion. Another odd couple story, this has probably too much talent to not be greenlit. The script has some laughs (but also some clunkers), and you can picture future story lines, so I think this will squeak by with a series order despite not inspiring a ton of confidence. (Plus maybe Fox can air this over in the UK also since it has Nick Frost)
“Weird Loners” – Ye old “Happy Endings” diaspora appears again with Zachary Knighton headlining an ensemble about single people in New York. A low commitment straight-to-series with six episodes. Directed by “New Girl”‘s Jake Kasden, this might pair well with theTuesday night block, demographically speaking. Nothing too amazing in the pilot, but maybe Fox saw something in scripts subsequent to the pilot.
So to conclude…
What Will Get Picked Up: Cabot College (already ordered), Last Man on Earth (already ordered), Mulaney (already ordered), Weird Loners (already ordered) and Sober Companion
What Should Get Picked Up: All of the “What Will Get Picked Up” are solid, though Cabot College and Weird Loners underwhelmed slightly. Looking forward to reading Last Man on Earth as the premise seems limiting, but the talent around it is solid. Hopefully Dead Boss will find a home somewhere, I just don’t think there’s room at Fox this season.
Stay tuned next week as we see if CBS goes with safe, familiar succesful comedy or finally tries to break out of the mold…