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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The CW: What’s New for Fall 2010

WEDNESDAY

Hellcats (Wed., Sept. 8 @ 9:00 PM, The CW)

* The competition: “Modern Family” and “Cougar Town” (ABC), “Criminal Minds” (CBS), “Law & Order: Special Victims Unit” (NBC), “Hell’s Kitchen” (Fox)

Starring: Aly Michalka, Ashley Tisdale, Gail O’Grady, Heather Hemmens, Robbie Jones, Matt Barr, Sharon Leal, Jeff Hephner, D.B. Woodside, Elena Esovolova

Producers: Tom Welling (“Smallville”), Kevin Murphy (“Desperate Housewives”), Allan Arkush (“Heroes”)

Network’s Description: a pumped-up drama about a young pre-law student whose world is turned upside-down when she loses her scholarship and has to join the college’s competitive cheerleading squad. This fun, energetic series is a behind-the-scenes look at the drama, politics and pressure surrounding the football program at a Southern university.

The Buzz: This isn’t a show for critics. It’s a show for CW viewers. Rarely do these two demographics meet. Granted, the slot behind “America’s Next Top Model” has killed many a newcomer, but they’ve got a lot of spirit, these Hellcats, so you never know what stunts they might be able to pull off.

Pilot Highlight: It’s a tie between Marti’s audition for the cheering squad and – spoiler alert! – her first practice after making the squad. Both offer awesome choreography and, yes, you lechers, lots of sexy cheerleaders dancing their asses off.

Bottom Line: At the very least, there’s more to it than the average non-female viewer will probably want to admit – yes, that’s right, sir, I’m speaking to you – but your appreciation of it will depend heavily on how you approach the material. This ain’t Shakespeare, people. It’s an hourlong TV series about cheerleaders. Set your standards appropriately, and you might just enjoy it…and if you don’t, then you almost certainly know someone who will.

THURSDAY

Nikita (Thurs., Sept. 9 @ 9:00 PM, The CW)

* The competition: “Grey’s Anatomy” (ABC), “CSI: Crime Scene Investigations” (CBS), “The Office” and “Outsourced” (NBC), “Fringe” (Fox)

Starring: Maggie Q, Lyndsy Fonseca, Shane West, Aaron Stanford, Ashton Holmes, Tiffany Hines, Melinda Clarke, Xander Berkeley

Producers: Craig Silverstein (“Bones”), Danny Cannon (“CSI,” “The Forgotten,” “Dark Blue”), McG and Peter Johnson (“Human Target”)

Network’s Description: a spy and assassin for a top secret U.S. government agency rebels against the system that created her and will stop at nothing to bring their powerful operation to an end.

The Buzz: There are a lot of folks muttering about how it hasn’t been all that long since the USA Network’s “La Femme Nikita” series, but a lot of them have walked away surprisingly impressed with the action delivered by the pilot.

Pilot Highlight: The sequence where Nikita sports a very impressive red bathing suit, slips into a hot tub with her target, and takes him down.

Bottom Line: It’s not the perfect pairing for “The Vampire Diaries,” but when you consider the fact that the women who swoon over the undead might also enjoy seeing other members of their gender doing a little well-choreographed ass-kicking, it’s not the craziest match-up in the world. Given the relatively low ratings standards of The CW, the established fans of the “Nikita” franchise might manage to make it into a success for the network.

  

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Greetings to the New Series: “Hellcats”

As someone who grew up preferring reading to playing sports and had more success as a comic book collector and Trekkie than a ladies man, it will probably come as no surprise to you that my years in public school didn’t exactly find me traveling in the same circles as the cheerleaders. For many years, I perceived cheerleaders as goddesses who deigned to walk among us mere humans, a breed of woman who existed so far above me in the school social structure that I considered it a major end-of-the-year coup if could get any of them to sign my yearbook…and I maintained that impression right up until my little sister became a cheerleader, at which point several things happened semi-simultaneously:

1) I was put in a position where I was forced to acknowledge that if this gaggle of hot girls in short skirts had allowed my sister into their ranks, then she too must be considered hot by the masses. Not cool. Nobody likes the idea that other guys are thinking of their sister like that.

2) I was also forced to acknowledge something which I’d long suspected but hadn’t wanted to admit: that my little sister was far more popular than I was. Even less cool.

3) Less important from a social standpoint but arguably most germane to this discussion, a steady stream of cheerleading videos went into rotation on the VCR in our living room. Whether the girls are hot or not, a guy can only stand to watch so many routines in a row before losing his mind, and I hit my maximum threshold pretty quickly.

The end result of these three things was that I quickly lost my interest in watching cheerleaders in action…and the effect was long-lasting: long after high school, I found little interest in films like “Bring It On” and “Sugar and Spice” because, frankly, I’d had enough cheerleading to last me a lifetime. As such, when it was announced that The CW’s fall line-up would featuring a full-fledged cheerleading drama, I reasonably presumed that I’d still be just as uninterested as I’d ever been.

This time around, though, I had a slightly different reaction to watching the cheerleaders. Sure, as a straight male, my instinct was still to unabashedly ogle the hot girls in the short skirts…but as a 40-year-old male, I realized that my daughter is closer in age to the girls than I am, and I felt – quite appropriately – like a dirty old man.

But, c’mon, man, have you seen the star of this show?

I think even the most chaste amongst our readership can concede that Aly Michalka is, quite simply, smokin’, but as history has shown us time and time again, it takes more than a hot girl…more, even, than a squad of hot girls…to make a quality television show.

Is there more to “Hellcats” than just a bunch of pretty faces?

Well, at the very least, there’s more to it than the average non-female viewer will probably want to admit – yes, that’s right, sir, I’m speaking to you – but your appreciation of it will depend heavily on how you approach the material.

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