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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TCA Tour: 24

Having already seen the first four hours of the new season of “24,” I can tell you without hesitation that it’s absolutely going to be worth your while to tune in when Jack Bauer’s latest day kicks off on January 17th, but, then, if you’re a fan of the show, you’ve probably already had your Sunday night planned out for quite some time now. What you’re likely more interested in knowing is if this will be the last season of “24.” Fortunately, that was the first question posed of Kiefer Sutherland and his fellow executive producer, Howard Gordon, during Fox’s panel for the series.

“We’ve always approached each season, just the task of doing it, as so great that, literally, from the very first season on, we’ve completed that season, and it was really FOX’s decision to pick us up,” said Sutherland. “There’s never been one specific season that the next season was guaranteed or ensured. This has been one of the greatest gifts of my life, the ability to do ’24.’ So for me, yeah, it’s something that is absolutely open. I’ve always said that as long as people wanted us to make it, and people were really interested in watching it, I would be interested. There’s a lot of components involved. The task of writing it is far greater than the task of acting in it, so Howard can talk about that for a moment, but certainly, it’s always open to continue on doing it.”

“I sort of second Kiefer’s thoughts about it,” said Gordon. “It’s always been a very year-to-year, minute-to-minute, day-to-day experience. There’s the intellectual and sort of emotional and creative curiosity. The writers sit around, and in the margins of the time when we aren’t working on Season 8 we do ask ourselves, ‘What if…?’ So it certainly is a possibility.”

So there you go: now you can safely enjoy the new season without feeling a sense of dread that they’re entering it with feelings of finality. We’ll get back to Messrs. Sutherland and Howard in a bit, but with that bit of pressing information out of the way, let’s check in to see what some of the other “24” folks are thinking about as they prepare for the premiere…

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TCA Tour, Jan. 2009: “24”

As readers of David Medsker’s weekly blog are already well aware, “24” is back on Fox in a big way, and the show was back at the January TCA Tour in similar fashion, earning its own panel this time around. (The decision in July to relegate the series to a half-hearted “24”-sponsored luncheon, with critics being forced to fight from scrum to scrum in order to get their questions answered, earned my ire in this entry.) From the questions being posed, it was clear that, after a less-than-stellar sixth season, many in the audience have found themselves becoming fans of the show again in Season 7. In particular, it seems that the little moments are what’s doing it for them, such as the scene in the car with Jack and the cop, where Jack acknowledges that maybe they were right in questioning him.

“I think Jack Bauer is certainly in a position where he’s questioning a lot of the things that he has had to do either by his own choice or by orders,” said our man Kiefer Sutherland, “and certainly at the beginning of the season, you see him in Africa, very disconnected from the United States. And so he is wrestling with his own history, about what he actually believes was right and fair and whether or not he was, in fact, the kind of person that should have been put in the position to do these things. It’s a through-line that really travels all 24 episodes this year. And so there’s this constant balance of defending, for instance, in the Senate investigation, his own actions. On a much cleaner level and a much more personal moral level, he questions those things greatly, so this inner struggle is something that carries him through all 24 episodes.”

Of course, if you’ve been watching this season, then you’ve probably already noticed how many times Jack has been standing up for his actions after being condemned by others. This might…just maybe…be a case of the show’s writers lashing out at their critics.

“I would be lying if I said there wasn’t some of that in there,” said producer Howard Gordon, with a laugh. “Obviously, there was the conundrum of how do we do a show that had taken quite a bit of heat for allegedly advocating this way of law enforcement and this way of countering terrorism. It was a nuance and it is an evolving question that plays, as Kiefer said, throughout the entire season. So I counsel patience, and I hope people have the patience and the appetite and the desire to watch through the whole season, because I think the answer to these questions will not be known until the very last episode.”

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