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, Jan. 2009: “The Prisoner”

There are cult TV series, and then there are cult TV series. Standing rather far ahead of the rest of the pack by just about every critics’ estimation, however, is “The Prisoner,” starring Patrick McGoohan as a former secret agent who is held captive in a small seaside village by the sea by an unidentified power that wants to know why he’s resigned from service. Hell, I’ve never even watched the series, and yet I’d still rate it as one of the top cult shows of all time, based solely on its reputation.

Once again, I think you have to give AMC kudos for their boldness as a network, because not only have they decided to re-imagine “The Prisoner,” thereby putting themselves in line to take no end of flak from the highly obsessive fans of the original series, but they’re even offering up the original show on AMCtv.com for those who haven’t seen it yet. (They also gave all of the critics in attendance a copy of the DVD box set of the series, since we’re clearly far too busy to watch television online.)

Confident much?

Well, you probably would be, too, if you could lay claim to having secured Jim Caviezel as your new Number Six and Sir Ian McKellen as the devious Number Two, then filled out the cast with Lennie James (“Jericho”), Ruth Wilson (“Jane Eyre”), and Jamie Campbell Bower (“Sweeney Todd,” “RocknRolla”).

It’s still going to take some convincing to get the old-school “Prisoner” fans to accept that the seaside of Portmeirion has been thrown out in favor of a new Village located in the midst of a desert setting, of course, but director Nick Hurran is clearly pleased with this new interpretation of the concept, which still focuses on a man trapped somewhere from which he cannot escape.

“The themes have the issue of family, of love, of control and of freedom in the same way,” said Hurran. “Freedom of choice, how much should we be allowed to have in our society of freedom. So, in that way, there are parallels of someone leaving a world and waking up in this extraordinary place for a reason that wants to be discovered. As in the original, there’s The Village. It’s an ideal world where everything will be provided for you. For us, you’ll be endlessly happy. Everything will be fulfilled for you, as long as you don’t ask questions. You won’t have the freedom to ask why, to say, ‘I’d like to leave now.’ And Six is the only one who questions that and says, ‘No, I’m not going to just take a number and join your marvelous world. I’m going to ask why and why is everybody else like this.’ We follow his challenge to question it and try and find out.”

McKellen, who conceded that he didn’t watch the original “Prisoner” when it first aired and only caught it in reruns years later, seems happy with the fact that AMC’s re-interpretation will be far less open-ended than its predecessor.

“One of the characteristics of the original was that in 17 episodes, the questions that you were invited to ask as to why and who is in charge and what are their motives, was never really answered, hence the enduring fascination,” said McKellen. “The viewers are still guessing as to what was the meaning of it all. Well, this is different. By episode six, you know everything about The Village: Where it came from, where it’s going to, who created it, why they did it and what it’s like to actually live there.”

McKellen also agrees with the decision to abandon the unabashedly British nature of the original. “Even though the location was in Wales, it didn’t feel like that,” he said. “It felt like a little English Disney place. Frankly, I’m more attracted to (screenwriter) Bill Gallagher’s notion of ‘The Prisoner’ and The Village and it’s on a world scale. The implications are for us all. To have an American character at the center of it seems appropriate in a way it would not have been to that curious English feeling that saturated the original series.”

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