Greetings to the New Pilots: 20 Series We Hope to See in Fall 2011

Yes, once again, it’s pilot season: the time when the broadcast networks put all of the potential projects for the 2011 – 2012 season on the table, take a cold, hard look at what’s available to them, and decide which ones have the most potential for success come the fall…or spring, depending on how much or how little confidence they end up having in the final product.

Critics everywhere should be throwing parades in honor of TV Guide’s Natalie Abrams, who has done the heavy lifting for the rest of us and offered up The Complete Pilot Report, listing off all of the pilots currently in the running for ABC, CBS, The CW, Fox, and NBC, along with their creators, their premises, and the actors currently attached to them as of this writing.

Having taken a gander at Abrams’ decidedly comprehensive list, here’s our list of the 20 shows we’d most like to see turn up come the kickoff of the Fall 2011 season:

1. Alcatraz (Fox): A cop (Sarah Jones) and a team of FBI agents track down a group of missing Alcatraz prisoners and guards who reappear in the present day after disappearing 30 years earlier. J.J. Abrams will executive-produce and Liz Sarnoff (“Lost”) will be the showrunner. Jorge Garcia, Sam Neill, Jonny Coyne, Jason Butler Harner, Parminder Nagra, Santiago Cabrera and Robert Forster also star.

2. Awakening (The CW): Two sisters (Lucy Griffiths and Meredith Hagner) face off during a zombie uprising. William Laurin, Glenn Davis, Howard T. Owens, Carolyn Bernstein and Todd Cohen will executive-produce.

3. Brave New World (NBC): The project centers on a group of characters at Pilgrim Village, a theme park that recreates 1637 New England. Peter Tolan (“Rescue Me”) wrote the pilot and will executive-produce with Michael Wimer (“2012”). Ed Begley Jr., Nick Braun, Will Greenberg, Jazz Raycole, Robbie Benson and Anna Popplewell will star.

4. The Council of Dads (Fox): Based on the non-fiction book by Bruce Feiler, a man who learns he’s dying enlists five men to help his wife raise their two children. The project comes from “Rescue Me” creator Peter Tolan. Kyle Bornheimer, Diane Farr, Patrick Breen and Ken Howard will star.

5. Hail Mary (CBS): An Atlanta-set P.I. drama tells the story of a suburban single mom (Minnie Driver) who teams up with a street hustler (Brandon T. Jackson) to solve crimes. Jeff Wadlow will write and executive-produce with Joel Silver and “The L Word” creator Ilene Chaiken. Enrique Murciano and Stephen Tobolowsky will also star.

6. How to Be a Gentleman (CBS): An uptight guy (David Hornsby) learns to live his life with the help of an old high school friend. The project comes from Hornsby (“It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia”). Dave Foley, Nancy Lenehan and Rhys Darby will also star.

7. Little in Common (Fox): This project revolves around families whose children play Little League together. “Veronica Mars”‘ Rob Thomas will write and executive-produce. Rob Corddry, Paula Marshall, Kevin Hart and Gabrielle Union star.

8. Pan Am (ABC) – The stewardesses and pilots of the titular airline are the stars of this soap set in the Jet Age of the 1960s. Jack Orman (“ER”) wrote the pilot and will executive-produce with Nancy Hult Ganis and Tommy Schlamme (“The West Wing”). Christina Ricci, Margot Robbie, Karine Vanasse and Michael Mosley will star.

9. Person of Interest (CBS): A presumed-dead CIA agent (Jim Caviezel) is recruited by a billionaire (Michael Emerson) to catch violent criminals in New York City. “Memento”‘s Jonathan Nolan and J.J. Abrams will executive-produce. Taraji P. Henson will also star.

10. Playboy (NBC) – At the Playboy Club in Chicago in 1963, “bunnies” (incuding Amber Heard and Naturi Naughton) flirt with danger. Chad Hodge and “Apollo 13″‘s Brian Grazer will executive-produce. Jeff Hephner, Laura Benanti, Jenna Dewan-Tatum, Leah Renee, David Krumholtz and Wes Ramsey also star.

11. Reconstruction (NBC) – In the aftermath of the Civil War, a soldier (Martin Henderson) crosses the country and settles in a complicated town where he is welcomed as its savior — whether he likes it or not. “St. Elsewhere” co-creator Josh Brand wrote the pilot. Bill Sage, Claire Wellin, Emma Bell and Rachelle Lefevre will also star.

12. REM (NBC): A police detective (Jason Isaacs) who’s involved in a traumatic car accident wakes up in two fractured realities. The project comes from Kyle Killen, creator of Fox’s short-lived “Lone Star,” and “24”‘s Howard Gordon will also executive-produce.

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Weekend box office: “No Strings Attached” receives benefits from female filmgoers

Things this weekend went pretty much exactly according to what I wrote on Thursday. Still, there was some nervousness out there.

Ashton Kutcher, Natalie Portman, and Cary Elwes in Nikki Finke tells us the studios were skittish because of the commercial track record of leading man Ashton Kutcher; it seems I’m not the only male audience member to have a deep, lizard-brain level allergy to the Kutcher. Fortunately for Paramount, young women are the dominant (70%, possibly) audience here. The simplicity of the premise and the balancing presence of the widely beloved, sure-to-be-Oscar-nominated Natalie Portman seems to have been enough to earn “No Strings Attached” — originally, presumably very tentatively, titled “Fuckbuddies” — an estimated $20.3 million for Paramount. I didn’t care for the movie, pretty obviously, but I sort of expected it to do reasonably well. It delivers what’s advertised, has some mildly funny moments, and we’ve all been trained to think of romantic comedies as light-brained affairs. That last part just makes me sad.

Scrolling down the Box Office Mojo chart, “The Green Hornet” suffered a very typical 46% drop it’s second week. It therefore managed a respectable $18.1 million estimate for Sony, putting more than it half-way to making back its $120 million production budget. Ron Howard’s first comedy in many moons, “The Dilemma,” dropped roughly the same amount and continued on track with its soft opening at an estimate of $9.7 million for luckless but now ultra-powerful Universal, thanks to the mega-merger with Comcast.

A cluster of likely Oscar contenders are holding down the next several spots, led by “The King’s Speech.” The press loves a horserace and speculation on the very real possibility of an Oscar sweep for “The Social Network” has been slowed somewhat by the Producer’s Guild awarding of its top prize to the historical tale last night.

Colin Firth and Helena Bonham Carter in

With a first-rate combination of director (Tom Hooper) and star (Colin Firth) the drama is apparently getting some outstanding word of mouth. It suffered almost no drop at all from last week and it’s estimate for the Weinstein Company is bubbling under $9.2 million. It’s going to be crossing the $60 million threshold probably by mid-week, many times it’s $15 million budget.

It was kind of a funny week in limited release. Indiewire has the details, but Peter Weir’s “The Way Back” disappointed somewhat in about 600 theaters. Probably getting a significant boost from star Paul Giamatti‘s surprise Golden Globe win, “Barney’s Version” led the week in per-screen averages, earning about $10,000 each on 16 screens. Not bad for a movie about a creature thought to be as hard to find as a yeti, an occasionally rude Canadian.

  

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A Roundtable Chat with the Cast and Director of “Saw 3D”

In 2003, director James Wan and screenwriter Lee Whannell put together a short film featuring a man with a rusty metal “reverse beartrap” on his head and a creepy-looking puppet in hopes that someone would take a chance on this film script they’d written.

Someone did.

Eight years later, the “Saw” franchise is reportedly coming to a close, and although the history of the horror genre – specifically, the fourth “Friday the 13th” film – has taught us that no chapter is ever truly final, they’re at least trying to make us think they’re going out with a bang, eschewing a straightforward “Saw VII” and instead offering fans an additional dimension of gory fun with “Saw 3D.”

Although the studio is predictably taking a pass on providing press screenings for the film (since everyone knows it’s going to be critic-proof, anyway), director Kevin Greutert and a trio of actors from the cast – Cary Elwes, Costas Mandylor, and Betsy Russell – turned up at the New York Comic Con to do a series of roundtable interviews for members of the media.

The demand to chat with these folks were significant, as you might imagine, so in order to maximize our time while working with minimal space, both the interviewers and the interviewees were split into two groups, with the interviewees switching groups after 15 minutes.

First up, Costas Mandylor and Kevin Greutert…

Journalist: So there’s, like, a volcano eruption of 3D films out there now, with the whole “take that and run with it” Hollywood attitude. What sets this one apart from other 3D horror films?

Kevin Greutert: Well, for one thing, this film was actually shot in 3D. We didn’t do a post-conversion like a lot of the other movies that have come out lately. I think that shooting it in 3D makes all the difference in the world, so it just looks that much better. This was shot with state-of-the-art cameras that are a lot more lightweight than any previous 3D films, so we were able to preserve the “Saw” style of doing a lot of stuff handheld and keeping the camera moving around a lot and very dynamic. Because technology is advancing so quickly, we were able to just take advantage on all aspects.

Journalist: Has 3D changed the blocking of the set and what you’re actually doing in the film?

KG: Yeah, it affects the way we block the scene, because we want to maximize the feeling of depth in the image, even if it’s not an in-your-face moment where stuff’s flying into the camera. We still wanted it to look as rich and full of space as possible.

Journalist: At what point in the production process was the decision made that the film was going to be in 3D? Was that from the outset, or did that happen…

KG: It was decided…that was probably the very first decision made on the film, and I had actually hoped even before we made “Saw V” to direct “Saw VI” in 3D but wasn’t able to make that work. So by the time “Saw VII” came along, now there’s enough infrastructure in terms of theaters that are equipped with 3D equipment to go forward, and…yeah, no one ever thought twice about doing it in 3D.

Journalist: How does 3D enhance the storyline?

KG: Well, I don’t know how much it actually plays into the story. There’s a bit of self-reference in the opening scene of the movie, which is the first “Saw” scene that takes place in broad daylight, with a big crowd watching one of Jigsaw’s big contraptions at play. There’s, I think, a little bit of an implicit message about horror audiences watching voyeuristically. 3D, I think, just kind of takes that to another level.

Journalist: Costas, what keeps bringing you back to this franchise?

Costas Mandylor: You know what? In a way, luck. And the character seems to have worked. And, you know, when you collaborate with people like Kevin and a couple of the other guys before him, and you know what you’re doing together, it’s a comfortable situation where you don’t have to get really… (Hesitates) I mean, some guys in life are a pain in the ass, and they die. “Saw” does that really easy. I committed to it as best as I could, and spending time with Tobin (Bell) and seeing how committed he was to keeping a certain standard, not letting the fans down was really important to him, so it wasn’t just going to a gig, doing my thing, and leaving. I actually paid attention. There’s a great example of…when I first started, I think it was in “IV,” he had a great idea for a scene and he called me at, like, 11:30 at night. He goes… (Does a Tobin Bell growl) “Hey, Costas, are you awake?” Jigsaw’s calling me at midnight on the phone. I’m in trouble here. (Laughs) I went to see him…reluctantly…but we spent some time together, and the scene…that was a really long scene that we did, with the gun to the…? It just worked beautifully, because he put the effort in and forced me to be okay with putting in my ideas as well. So I’m still here ‘til the end of this one, and…we don’t even know the endings. But for now, I’m in.

KG: We have more control over Costas by not letting his character die. (Laughs) We hold that over his head every year.

Journalist: But that doesn’t keep Tobin from coming back!

KG: (Laughs) He has more screen time dead than he did alive!

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