THE RUNWAY: AN IN DEPTH LOOK AT ALL OF FOX’S 2014 DRAMA PILOTS

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In this week’s edition of The Runway, we look at Fox’s slate of 2014 drama pilots. Can Fox discover more “Sleepy Hollow”s and less “Rake”s? Find out below.

Running Fox’s drama department is tough. The network has no brand on the one hour side. If ABC is programming for women, CBS is procedural, NBC is Chicago police & fire departments, where does that leave Fox?

Last year’s development season was a mixed bag. They took some big swings. Surprise hit “Sleepy Hollow” seems to be doing well, but JJ Abrams produced “Almost Human” has not gotten a renewal notice and Greg Kinnear starrer “Rake” was pretty much DOA.

What does 2014 look like? More big swings — including many straight-to-series orders. And likely some will stick and some won’t. Let’s put our phones on airplane mode as we take a look at Fox’s potential Fall offerings.

“Backstrom” – Rainn Wilson as an unpredictable detective in this Swedish import. I haven’t read the Fox draft, but read the project last year when at CBS. Despite a pass from the Tiffany Network, Fox gave this a straight-to-series. My take: If “Rake” didn’t work, I’m skeptical on this. But Fox is always chasing the next “House” — heck, it will settle for the next “Bones” — so I can see why quirky procedural might arouse their interest. This will be a real test of Rainn Wilson’s star power.

“Empire” – Possibly the greatest concentration of above-the-line skill in one pilot: EP’d by Danny Strong, Lee Daniels, Brian Grazier, starring Terrence Howard and Taraji P. Henson. This one is set in the world of hip hop recording business. This was a compelling read. The only fear is show biz “inside baseball” dramas sometimes go bad — see “Smash”. I definitely think this will get the greenlight though and could be a big hit.

“Gotham” – Fox’s answer to “S.H.I.E.L.D.” I don’t know the DC universe that well, but found the pilot agreeable enough. Big fan of Ben McKenzie and Donal Logue. I’ve heard grumblings from others that the pilot is a little soft for their tastes. It has a 22 episode order though, so it has some time to find its footing.

“Hieroglyph” – Another swing-for-the-fences pickup at Fox. Written by “Pacific Rim” scribe Travis Beacham. Ancient Egypt is definitely not my favorite genre, and I found this one a little tough to follow, but it wears its ambition on its sleeve. Thirty episode order, so all that remains is will it get the back nine. I think viewers’ embrace of Egyptian Gods will determine more than anything.

“Home” – Haven’t read this one and the logline is a little vague — a suburban family has secrets. This seems ostensibly to be more grounded and low key than the offerings. In a year of big drama pilots at Fox, could this be a nice counterprogramming attempt?

“The Middle Man” – This one got some heat for being EP’d by Ben Affleck. Latest reports have the pilot on hold since Affleck dropped out. Predictably involves Boston, the mafia and FBI agents. While reading this, I thought it might take some time to find an audience. And that’s time Kevin Reilly doesn’t have. So this may push to next year.

“Red Band Society” – Involves teenagers in a hospital living together. It has the advantage of being unlike anything we see on tv now. And is demographically younger, which Fox loves. But I think the competition is too heavy for this one to make it to air.

“Runner” – Conflicting reports on if this has a greenlight for 2015 or only a pilot commitment — not sure which . Deals with arms trafficking and the Mexican/U.S. border. This one has some serious action and a whole lot of ellipses. I couldn’t quite get too into the story — felt more like a feature than a tv show — but sister station FX did pretty well with “The Bridge”, so best to take a wait and see approach.

So to conclude…

What Will Get Picked Up: Backstrom (straight-to-series order), Empire, Gotham (straight-to-series order), Hieroglyph (straight-to-series order)

What Should Get Picked Up: If Runner has a mid-season pickup, then it’s obviously a “go”. Don’t think there’s room on the schedule for any others, unfortunately.

Stay tuned next week as we finish up our network roundup reviewing CBS dramas, and see if procedurals are still in vogue…

Read more on the 2014 pilot season by following THE RUNWAY series here!

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