In this week’s edition of The Runway, we look at the NBC’s slate of 2014 comedy pilots. Are any of them “must see tv”? Find out below.
What do you think of when I say “NBC” and “Thursday”? Comedy, right? That’s the network and night that gave us such classics as “Cheers”, “Seinfeld”, “Friends”, “Frasier” and “The Office” — to name just a few. Those shows became appointment viewing for my generation. What do you think of when I say NBC and Thursday nights now? Probably nothing, because according to Nielsen very few viewers watch NBC on Thursdays.
NBC has a huge comedy problem. I personally like “Parks & Recreation” and “Community”, and though the former just got officially renewed, these shows simply don’t draw many viewers. Some say the humor is too sophisticated. Or that there’s no show to anchor the night. While both of those are true, some of the blame has to be shouldered by the development folks at NBC.
For a few years, they were chasing Friends clones like “Perfect Couples” and “Friends With Benefits”. Both of those shows were one season and out. Last year they tried to go with A-list actor shows, greenlighting “Michael J. Fox Show” and “Sean Saves the World”. Neither will be returning.
So what’s the main theme this year? Shows ordered straight-to-series and shows featuring former cast members from “Happy Endings”. Are either of those strategies going to be a success? Sit back, relax, and enjoy a drink as we through this year’s pilot greenlights and assess their chances:
“A to Z” – This one faces an uphill battle. NBC hasn’t had a successful straight romantic comedy show since “Mad About You.” And this one ends with the leads together and without much conflict. So for you “shippers” out there, you won’t really need to hold your breath. Will need pretty strong performances to get the greenlight.
“Bad Judge” – The title says it all. Has Will Ferrell, Adam McKay and Anne Heche as heavyweight producers. Star Kate Walsh is a decent get, but not normally known for comedy. The jokes are pretty one note — she’s a judge, but with loose morals — though often funny. I like the star power, but the premise is limiting.
“Ellen More Or Less” – Like “Fatrick” at Fox, this is a comedy about a former overweight girl now getting to experience being thin and desired. Has a ton of flashbacks to her heavier days. Either this or “Fatrick” will likely get a greenlight, so whichever probably has the better execution wins that game of chicken.
“Feed Me” – Starring Mary Louise Parker. This one has some dark, edgy subject matter that makes it sound like a cable project. Would stand out though for NBC and could get the network some buzz. Hmm…
“Lifesaver” – “Odd Couple” style project. CBS literally has “Odd Couple” with Matthew Perry starring, so this one would have to compete with that. The circumstances bringing the pair together feels a bit forced, and the Zach Galifianakis-style donor sometimes skews a bit broad.
“Love is Relative” – Written by Dan Mazer (“Borat”) and produced by Tom Werner (“Cheers” and many other NBC shows), starring Leslie Bibb. A married couple must deal with divorced brother moving in. The writing on this is solid. The concept a little light,, and a bit similar to Fox’s cancelled “Ben & Kate”. I don’t recall Bibb doing TV before, so this will definitely be one of those “execution dependent” pilots that could go either way.
“Marry Me” – Written by “Happy Endings” showrunner David Caspe and starring his fiance Casey Wilson and the very funny Ken Marino. This is the first (alphabetically) of the “Happy Endings” diaspora pilots. On talent alone, you’d have to think this gets the greenlight. Plot similar to “Mad About You”, but with a recently engaged couple instead of a recently married one. The script alternates between funny and occasionally trying to hard, but I can certainly see it as a series, so it should be good to go. Fingers crossed it doesn’t turn into “Whitney”.
“Mason Twins” – Written by aforementioned Casey Wilson & June Diane Raphael, this one finds fraternal twins — polar opposites — reunited in suburbia. Starring Raphael and perennial pilot actress Erinn Hayes. The bones are in place for a greenlight. But I found the script to be a little light on actual laughs.
“Mission Control” – 60’s set comedy dealing with the space race and sexual politics. Kind of a non-traditional idea for a comedy (like “Feed Me”), this one certainly stands out from the pact for its uniqueness. Comedies set in the past were big last season (ie “Surviving Jack” and “The Goldbergs”), but this one goes way into the past. Almost entirely workplace set, much of the humor derives from period specific details (astonishment a woman could be a doctor, not having seat belts in a car, etc). This would be a big leap of faith by NBC.
“Mr. Robinson” – Pilot was shot last season, NBC gave it an order for six episodes this season. Craig Robinson headlines as a music teacher in over his head — think “School of Rock” as a tv show. I could see NBC ordering a few more episodes, but doubt this goes the full twenty-two. Setting is a bit limiting, humor pretty gentle, and although Craig Robinson is funny, he’s probably better as part of an ensemble than carrying a show himself.
“Two to Go” – Another pilot for you “shipper” fans. A guy and girl navigate modern dating even though they’ll clearly get together by the end of season one. They’re the last of their friends to be single. Writing has echoes of “Friends” or “Happy Endings”. Funny, but not terribly distinct.
“One Big Happy” – Elisha Cushbert (another “Happy Endings” diaspora member) stars as a lesbian who is impregnated by her straight friend, only for him to meet the love of his life. Complications ensue. This one is EP’d by Oscar host Ellen DeGeneres and written by a “2 Broke Girls” scribe. I haven’t read this one, but the premise sounds somewhat promising. It’s also multi-cam, which NBC is not known for.
“The Pro” – Rob Lowe stars in the titular role. Rob Riggle co-stars in a role seemingly tailor written for him, as Lowe’s estranged doubles partner hired by the same country club (shocking, I know). I like Rob Riggle, but a little Riggle goes a long way. Lots of star power behind this, and the jokes are OK, but the whole things feels a tad dated. NBC marketing folks I’m sure would like a pick-up, as it’s pretty straight forward concept.
“Old Soul” – Natasha Lyonne continues to try to get her career back on track starring as a worker who cares for the elderly. Some fun older actors in this one (Ellen Burstyn, Fred Willard). Writing is solid. Only thing holding this one back might be demographics.
“Tooken” – Co-written by Tina Fey, this straight-to-series order finds Ellie Kemper as a woman who escapes from captivity after many years (think the tragedy in Ohio from last year), and decides to make a go of it in New York City. Like “Mary Tyler Moore” if Mary was completely clueless as to how the world works. This is a two hander, as she befriends and moves in with a funny gay black man. Pilot is only world building and they need to build out the ensemble, but NBC really really wanted to be in the Tina Fey business, so this is what they get.
“Unt. Jerrod Carmichael” – This is listed as a comedy presentation, as opposed to a pilot. Star vehicle for Jerrod. Won’t get picked up, but will be an interesting showcase for his acting skills as a lead.
“Working the Engels” – Straight-to-series-order. Family bands together after father’s death to keep family afloat. I haven’t read it, but it’s a Canadian co-production that will lower NBC’s financial commitment. Could this unfortunately be a new way for NBC to help the bottom line but hurt American writers/actors?
So to conclude…
What Will Get Picked Up: Mr. Robinson (already ordered), Tooken (already ordered), Working the Engels (already ordered), Marry Me and Old Soul
What Should Get Picked Up: All of the “What Will Get Picked Up” are decent, but no real breakout hits. I also liked “Love is Relative”, but it’s hard for that premise to stick out in the crowd.. “One Big Happy” seems to have a good premise, but I haven’t read the actual script. Honestly, NBC is in a bit of trouble here so I’m guessing they renew “About a Boy” and “Community”.