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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Old Show, New Season: “Scrubs”

When “Scrubs” wrapped its eighth season earlier this year, it did so with the presumption that it was offering viewers a final farewell to its characters. J.D. (Zach Braff) and Elliott (Sarah Chalke) spent the season finally settling into a groove as a couple, and in the 2-part finale, we watched J.D. make the most mature decision of his life: to leave Sacred Heart in order to take a job which would allow him to live closer to his son. If you followed the show throughout its run, it’s hard to imagine that you didn’t get misty as he took his final stroll down the hospital’s corridors, revisiting the memories of former friends, lovers, colleagues, and patients, and even if you did somehow make it through without dry eyes, the combination of having Peter Gabriel’s cover of the Magnetic Fields’ “The Book of Love” play over a montage of J.D.’s possible future was enough to kickstart anyone’s tear ducts.

It was, most fans agreed, the perfect way to close out the “Scrubs” story.

As such, when it was announced that 1) ABC had offered Bill Lawrence the chance to continue “Scrubs” for a 9th season, and 2) he had accepted their offer, fans immediately split into two camps: those who felt that Lawrence was betraying the legacy of the series by not leaving well enough alone and leaving them with their perfect ending, and those who were excited at the prospect of seeing the series continue. The phrase “legacy shmegacy” quickly became a staple of Lawrence’s interviews (such as, for instance, this one), and he soon revealed that Season 9 of the show would feel almost like a spin-off, taking Drs. Cox (John C. McGinley) and Turk (Donald Faison), turning them into med school professors, and exploring the world of first-year medical students…or, as he said to Michael Ausiello when the announcement was first made, “It’ll be a lot like ‘The Paper Chase’ as a comedy.” But while that’s a great reference to endear TV critics to its premise, is the concept enough to bring back those who were quite happy with the show reaching its logical conclusion at the end of Season 8?

If it isn’t, then maybe Zach Braff will be.

At first, it was implied that Braff would only be returning for a few episodes, with rumors abounding that ABC was pushing for the show to add a “big name” to its cast to keep the ratings momentum moving along; instead, he will actually appear in half of the episodes this season, with Lawrence rationalizing that, all things considered, Braff is a pretty big name in his own right. At the very least, his presence will surely inspire some of the on-the-fence fans to give the new version of the show a shot, and the same goes for Sarah Chalke, who will be turning up on a semi-regular basis as well. Although we saw Dr. Kelso (Ken Jenkins) drive off into the sunset at the end of Season 8, he must have turned around at some point, since he’ll also be teaching a class at the medical school, and as the ever-abrasive Denise (Eliza Coupe) was deemed way too good a character to leave behind, she’ll be working with Professors Cox, Dorian, Kelso, and Turk as a teaching assistant.

But, wait, now you’re wondering about everyone else, too, so I’d better get them out of the way, too.

What of Carla? Well, since Judy Reyes was reportedly only interested in reprising her role in a full-time capacity, we apparently won’t be seeing her for the foreseeable future, but we were given the impression that Carla was probably going to be transitioning from nurse to homemaker, anyway, so it’s easy enough to buy that. Christa Miller’s pretty busy over on “Cougar Town,” so there’s no sign of Jordan at the moment, but given that she works for the same network and that she’s married to the man behind both shows, let’s just say that it wouldn’t be impossible that she could turn up. (In fact, the word probable might even be appropriate, but you didn’t hear that from me.) Neil Flynn’s gig on “The Middle” is keeping him hopping, too, but The Janitor will rear his head briefly tonight, and Ted the Lawyer (Sam Lloyd) will turn up in the near future, with his significant other, The Gooch (Kate Micucci), in tow.

Okay, now you know that there’ll be plenty of old faces around to make you feel at home. So how about the new faces? ABC kicks off the return of the series with two new episodes, but if you can’t wait ’til then to find out if “Scrubs: Med School” – yes, Lawrence won his fight with ABC to add an era-differentiating subtitle to the series – will permanently taint your memories of the preceding eight seasons, then you’ll probably want to read on. Be forewarned, however, that there are SPOILERS in your immediate future, so those who wish to remain blissfully ignorant until 9 PM should bail out now. Just be sure to come back later to offer your thoughts about the show’s return.

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Professors Cox and Turk, at your service

Over at EW.com, the great and powerful Michael Ausiello managed to score the scoop from Bill Lawrence on what’s going on with “Scrubs” come its return for its semi-unexpected ninth season. (I’d be sad that he got the exclusive and I didn’t, but, frankly, I’m still riding on the high from a past interview with Mr. Lawrence where he actually said, “I can’t remember if it was you or Mike Ausiello that I said this to before.”) The talk had always been that the show was going to reinvent itself if and when it came back to the airwaves, and so it will: Dr. Cox (John C. McGinley) and Dr. Turk (Donald Faison) are going to become med-school professors.

Said Lawrence to Ausiello:

“It’ll be a lot like Paper Chase as a comedy. It’s going to be a different show. It’ll still be life-and-death stakes, but if the show is just ‘Scrubs’ again in the hospital with a different person’s voiceover, it would be a disaster and people would be mad. Med students in their first three years have to spend anywhere from 10 to 50 percent of their time at a hospital. And that’s when you’ll see some of the [original cast members]. Continuity-wise, Sacred Heart will still exist with those people still working there.”

Ausiello also confirms that Zach Braff, Sarah Chalke, Judy Reyes and Ken Jenkins will be making guest appearances, and that Neil Flynn, a.k.a. The Janitor, will not be popping up for the foreseeable future, due to his commitments on his own new series (“The Middle”). Beyond McGinley and Faison, however, the majority of the cast will consist of freshman folk, though Lawrence teases in the article that the network is putting the screws to the show to hire a semi-big name as one of the new faces. Who will it be? Time will tell…

  

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