It's pilot season, that time of year when out-of-work actors land roles in the premiere episodes of proposed television series. The broadcast networks are scurrying to prep and film about 80 pilots between now and the end of April. Network executives will decide which ones make the cut by mid-May.
It's dicey business to get excited about pilots because only 20 percent of them are likely to be ordered to series. Fox's "Locke & Key," set in a house of mystery, is among the pilots in the running. And it's not the only series with a backdrop that's far removed from the lawyers-doctors-cops milieu that dominated the fall 2010 TV season.
The ABC drama "Grace" is set in the world of professional dance and produced by a "Dancing With the Stars" judge; ABC's "Once Upon a Time" is set in a town where fairy tales are real; and the network's "Poe" re-imagines Edgar Allan Poe as a latter-day crime-scene investigator.
The CW's "Awakening" pilot is set during a zombie uprising (thanks, "Walking Dead"!); and Fox's "Alcatraz" is about a team of FBI agents tracking a group of missing prisoners and guards who reappear 30 years after their disappearance.
The Fox comedy "Tagged" is set in a coroner's office; and the NBC comedy "Brave New World" is set at a Pilgrim-themed amusement park. NBC's "Grimm" is a cop drama with characters based on those in Grimm Brothers' fairy tales; and NBC's "Reconstruction" is a drama set in a small town after the Civil War.
Remakes are popular because the thinking goes that anything with a pre-sold title has a built-in advantage. And it did work for CBS's "Hawaii Five-0" this season. Hence, ABC is remaking "Charlie's Angels" (with Minka Kelly of "Friday Night Lights" and "Parenthood"); and NBC has remakes of "Wonder Woman" (starring Adrianne Palecki of "Friday Night Lights" as the superhero and written by David E. Kelley of "Boston Legal") and "Prime Suspect" (starring Maria Bello in Helen Mirren's old role).
In addition, there are plenty of shows that, if not remakes, sound surprisingly familiar. "Mad Men" appears to have inspired NBC's "Playboy" (set at the Chicago Playboy club in 1963) and ABC's "Pan Am" (Christina Ricci leads a series about stewardesses in the 1960s).
Books are also inspiring potential new fall offerings, including NBC's "Are You There, Vodka? It's Me, Chelsea" (based on the Chelsea Handler book; Handler plays her own older sister in the pilot); Fox's "Council of Dads" (based on a memoir by Bruce Geiler written to his children after a cancer diagnosis); "Weekends at Bellevue" (an account of working in a mental hospital by Dr. Julie Holland); and "The Finder" (a "Bones" spinoff based on "The Locator" books by Richard Greener).
More books being made into pilots include NBC's "My Life as an Experiment" (A.J. Jacobs' nonfiction account of trying new things); CBS's "How to be a Gentleman" (a nonfiction etiquette book by John Bridges); ABC's "Good Christian Bitches" (based on the novel by Kim Gatlin -- and, yes, ABC is likely to change the TV show's title); and The CW's "The Secret Circle" (a teen series about witches by L.J. Smith, who also wrote "The Vampire Diaries" books).
And, of course, there are plenty of series in the works starring familiar stars: Tim Allen ("Home Improvement") reteams with ABC for a comedy; Christine Lahti ("Chicago Hope") returns to CBS to again play a doctor in a family drama; and "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" star Sarah Michelle Gellar returns to prime time in the CBS drama "Ringer" about a woman pretending to be her twin sister. Fox welcomes Ethan Hawke, who plays a CIA extraction team leader; and welcomes back Kiefer Sutherland ("24"), who plays a dad who discovers his mute son is psychic. Former "Saturday Night Live" star Rob Schneider plays a bachelor who marries into a Mexican-American family in a proposed CBS sitcom whose pilot episode will be directed by Jamie Widdoes.
In a recent phone interview, Widdoes said there are more comedies in development this year, which he attributes to the success of "Modern Family."
"It was a wonderful game-changer, certainly for ABC and I think for comedy in general," he said, noting that "Modern Family" is also likely to be a success in syndicated reruns, something past single-camera comedies have not achieved as often as multicamera shows. (A multicamera show is a traditional sitcom filmed in front of a studio audience, such as "Two and a Half Men" or "Friends.")
And there are new pilots from brand-name producers: Shonda Rhimes ("Grey's Anatomy") delivers ABC a drama pilot about a crisis-management consultant; Josh Schwartz and Stephanie Savage ("Gossip Girl") follow Washington, D.C., power brokers in ABC's "Georgetown"; Marc Cherry ("Desperate Housewives") goes to a Tennessee town for the ABC drama "Hallelujah"; and Ron Moore (Syfy's "Battlestar Galactica") offers NBC a supernatural police drama.
Which of these concepts will actually make it into your living room come fall? We won't know that until the "upfronts," when the networks unveil their programming wares to advertisers in New York. That happens the week of May 15
After some retooling, NBC will bring "Law & Order: Los Angeles" back to its prime-time schedule on April 11 with a two-hour outing at 9 p.m. EDT. After that, "LOLA" slides into 10 p.m. Monday (by then, "Harry's Law" will have completed its run of original episodes).
When "LOLA" returns, star Skeet Ulrich will be gone. Alfred Molina, who previously played a district attorney on the show, will take over Ulrich's cop role. (Turns out the D.A. was a police officer first and a lawyer later in his career.)
Deputy district attorneys played by Megan Boone and Regina Hall also will be MIA, replaced by Alana de la Garza, who reprises her deputy D.A. role from the original "Law & Order."
This week CBS renewed "How I Met Your Mother" for two additional seasons through May 2013 and ordered two more editions of "Survivor" for broadcast during the 2011-12 TV season. ... Strong premieres Sunday: "Army Wives" on Lifetime drew 4.2 million viewers (up 24 percent from last April's premiere); 2.8 million viewers watched A&E's "Breakout Kings," which was the network's most-watched drama-series premiere among adults 18-49 and 25-54; ABC's "Secret Millionaire" drew 12.6 million viewers, but in the same hour the superior NBC reality show "America's Next Great Restaurant" could only muster 4.6 million viewers. ... Michael Chabon, author of "The Mysteries of Pittsburgh," and his wife, author Ayelet Waldman, are developing a drama series for HBO about con artists and magicians who use their skills of deception to battle Hitler during World War II. Tentative title: "Hobgoblin." ... TLC terrorizes viewers with new episodes of "Kate Plus 8" beginning at 10 p.m. April 4.