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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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Superhero movie madness, explained

Let’s face it, this superhero movie thing is in danger of getting out of control. On the DC side we have Batman, Green Lantern, possibly the Flash, Wonder Woman, Aquaman and, assuming the studio can move faster than a speeding lawsuit, Superman.

Marvel, of course, is moving faster still with movies about Iron Man, the Hulk, Thor, Captain America, possibly Nick Fury, and who knows what else leading up to an “Avengers” film to be directed by geek fave Joss Whedon, we think. (In April, Whedon and Marvel were in “final negotiations.” Now one of Whedon’s brothers has apparently told MTV that he has “tentatively agreed” to do it…is that even different?)

So, what’s the big deal? A few movies have been extremely successful and Hollywood follows its historic tendency towards repeating a winning formula until such time as the audience completely revolts. Is this any different? No, actually, but also yes. You see, I haven’t read a Marvel comic in a very long time, but even now my closet fanboy heart goes faintly pitty-pat at the thought of an “Avengers” movie incorporating the same actors from the other films. Why? It’s called “continuity.” What’s that? I could just say, “It’s a fanboy thing, you wouldn’t understand.” But now, thanks to some random guy with a little musical ability and more wit, action figures, and time on his hands, I have an explanation. In song.

Big time h/t to Alison Nastasi of Cinematical.

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The League of Quality Superhero Animation plugs “Crisis on Two Earths” at Paley Center

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It’s an old story. You’re a superhero minding your own business and then you bump into someone who looks very familiar but, well, something’s just not right. Gee whiz but this person looks a lot like you and is even wearing similar clothes, but then you notice your new acquaintance looks like he or she is made from rocks, uses terrible grammar and does everything the opposite of you. (“Me want to not save world!”) Or the newcomer looks like one of your deadliest enemies, but turns out to be no Bizaaro, but as heroic as you are. What’s a superhero to do?

It’s an old superhero comic story that has yet to find its way into a big-time costumed-hero flicks — but at least it’s finally been used in a solidly entertaining and often slyly funny direct-to-DVD animated production. Rated a mild PG-13 for non-deadly “action violence,” Warner Home Video’s “Justice League: Crisis on Two Earths” shows us the fall-out of an alternate universe where the equivalents of our most famed superheros are essentially costumed Mafioso, while a bald guy named Luthor and a joker named the Jester vainly fight the power of organized caped crime.

When the alternate Luthor (Chris Noth) manages a reality jump into the original DC Comics Universe, he enlists the aid of  most of the Justice League. And so, Superman (Mark Harmon), Wonder Woman (Vanessa Marshall), and a less than cooperative Batman (William Baldwin), become involved in a desperate quest to free Good Luthor’s universe from super-powered criminal domination by the vicious Crime Syndicate and it’s Jersey-thug-like leader, Ultraman (Brian Bloom) — and also to stave off the possible destruction of all existence by an off-his-evil meds Dark Knight of the Soul, Owlman (James Woods), and his only slightly more sane GF, Super Woman (Gina Torres).

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The 72 minute direct-to-video feature was premiered at both of the coastal outlets of the Paley Center, and I attended the one located on Earth Prime’s Beverly Hills. Us members of the local geek press were allowed to commune with members of the cast and crew and, in my case, that started with the extremely busy animation casting and voice director, Andrea Romano. The loquacious performer and voice director, whose work includes everything from “Animaniacs” to “Spongebob Squarepants” and “Ben Ten,” is held in as high esteem by super-animation fans as any actor, writer, or director. Her work on DC superhero projects goes back to the early nineties and “Batman: The Animated Series,” which revolutionized superhero cartoons with quality writing from creators like Bruce Timm and Paul Dini, animation, and, thanks to her efforts, acting.

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RIP Henry Gibson

I was going to cover some of the usual folderol I cover here today, but, sadly, we have another passing to note with the death at 73 of Henry Gibson from cancer.

Gibson — whose stage name derives from an early character he did with roommate Jon Voight — was a personal favorite of mine. Not a large man, he was the kind of actor who might have one or two scenes in a movie, but was pretty much guaranteed to bring something detailed and memorable to his usually hilarious scenes; a relatively recent case in point was his great turn as the befuddled shocked clergyman towards the end of “Wedding Crashers.” He’s also familar to fans of “Boston Legal” as one of the show’s recurring judges.

With his eccentric but unassuming air, he gained his greatest fame as a cast member on “Rowan & Martin’s Laugh-In,” a faster paced, but more shtick-laden late sixties/early seventies forerunner of SNL. His signature bit involved him reciting absurd, vaguely counter-cultural, poetry in his ultra deadpan style while holding a giant flower and bowing with exaggerated politeness at the end. (He was famously spoofed on the show by John Wayne, who brought his own unique socio-political sensibilities to his verse.)

Numerous movie and TV roles followed, including probably the closest Henry Gibson ever got to a leading film role, cast brilliantly against type as a controlling and hypocritical country music patriarch in Robert Altman’s masterpiece, “Nashville.” Later, he’d play out-and-out villains, but usually in more comical contexts. Fans of eighties comedies have a special affection for his commanding role as the patriarch of a very strange family who loom in Tom Hanks‘s fevered imagination in Joe Dante’s comedy horror homage, “The ‘Burbs.” He was also the head neo-Nazi in “The Blues Brothers.”

All in all, the loss of Gibson at the relatively young age of 73 is a sad one and hit me personally a bit harder than expected. I’ve loved Gibson’s work since childhood and, whether he was playing a Napoleonic villain or a gentle preacher totally out of his depth, there was an abiding soulful quality to his work that made him all the more funny. Truly original performers like him are few and far between.

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My friend, Zayne, has a very nice remembrance of Mr. Gibson at More a Legend than a Blog, and Edward Copeland shares my appreciation of his work as country music legend Haven Hamilton.

There’s less of him than I’d like on YouTube, but I did find a few fine moments of Gibson, which you can check out after the flip.

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DC’s turn

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Nikki Finke, who scooped everyone by a little bit on this major development, denies there’s a direct connection. It’s still impossible to not think the Marvel/Disney bombshell of less than a fortnight ago isn’t related to this slightly less incendiary news: Time Warner is restructuring venerable DC Comics as DC Entertainment, placing it under the direct control of Warner Brothers and its head, Jeffrey Robinov.

Actually running DC will be Diane Nelson, whom Finke describes as a “brilliant marketer” and credits with the successful marketing of the Harry Potter movie franchise. (She’s also been involved with the direct-to-video DC animated titles that have been coming out recently.) No longer running DC comics will be Paul Levitz, a very well regarded writer and editor whose been associated with the company since his teens and whose been the company’s president since 2002. Levitz will remain as a writer, editor, and consultant — who I hope they actually listen to.

The general verdict on this seems to be that DC is playing catch-up with Marvel’s broader use of its character roster. Though I don’t follow the comic book world the way I used to, my default mode on this was to be slightly dismayed to see a creative like Levitz replaced by a marketer in the top spot, however “brilliant.” In her initial post on the topic ace comics blogger Heidi MacDonald had this to say:

The moves are mostly aimed at shoring up Warner’s movie slate….Where will comics fit? Probably (our own guess) as a smaller and smaller part of the empire.

She also ventures a thought on the long-in-development “Wonder Woman” movie.

Some of you will recall that Robinov is notorious for his “no movies with female leads” edict, which led to the Kate Beckinsale led WHITEOUT being kept on ice for two years.

I don’t read her as regularly as I’d like because I don’t follow comics regularly, but Ms. MacDonald is one of the best there is at this media blogging game. Seems like a fair assessment and a warning worth listening to on both counts. Certainly Robinov’s sub-moronic move in 2007 could give people pause, though it might be less an example of blatant sexism than the kind of bizarre thinking that often runs Hollywood: If I have a hit with a panda one year because I made a great movie starring a panda, then suddenly pandas are the path to success. If, the next year, I make a sucky movie about a koala and it fails because the movie was dull, then koalas are now and forever box office poison. The fact that one was a good movie and the other stank is something studio execs like to ignore because it’s such a sticky and confusing matter. Better to issue pointless edicts about the species, gender, hair color, formats (3-D animation “in!”; 2-D animation “out!”), etc.

Let’s hope that Ms. Nelson insulates DC from that sort of thing, or it’s bad news both for movies and comic books. Something like this probably had to happen, but I certainly hope this doesn’t bland things out in our already too bland media landscape. I also hope that the more diverse DC line, which spans a lot more genres than Marvel, is allowed to stay that way and not turned into a Marvel-like superheroes-only outfit out of some misguided idea of branding. Comics are, if nothing else, a strong idea factory for movie properties and there’s no reason at all to limit the kinds of ideas.

Heidi MacDonald has statements from Paul Levitz and praise for the long-time DC standby, who edited his first comic book at age 20, from others, including herself.

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New York Comic-Con 2009: The Wrap-Up

You know you’re on the right bus for Comic-Con when a guy comes aboard wearing a Flash t-shirt…and he’s followed a guy toting two enormous bags in which to carry swag…and then that guy is followed by Darth Vader.

Actually, now that I think about it, maybe Lord Vader wasn’t actually on the bus with me, but he was most certainly present – and in various heights, weights, shapes, and sizes, no less – during the course of the New York Comic-Con, which took place at New York’s Javitz Center from February 6th through the 8th.

Our man Jason Zingale has been our resident San Diego Comic-Con attendee for the past couple of years, but Bullz-Eye was also in the house for last year’s NYCC, thanks to our man in New York, Jonathan Flax. (Granted, he’s often a quiet man, but he’s still there for us when we need him.) This year, however, I couldn’t resist the chance to take in Comic-Con for myself. The San Diego event takes place immediately after I’ve already spent two-and-a-half weeks in L.A. for the July TCA Press Tour, and by that point, I just can’t be away from my wife and daughter any longer; fortunately, the NYCC takes place long enough after the January TCA tour that I was able to feel comfortable heading out of town to attend. It was disappointing that I had to take in all of the sights, sounds, and events all by my lonesome, but lord knows there were plenty of other people with whom I was sharing the experience. I might’ve come by myself, but I was in no way alone.

Day 1:

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The All New Super Friends Hour: Season One, Volume Two

With each subsequent “Super Friends” set that emerges from the Warner Brothers vaults, my childhood memories are tarnished a little bit more. I spent more Saturday mornings in front of the television that I’d care to count, held rapt by the adventures of Superman, Batman, Robin, Wonder Woman, Aquaman, and the Wonder Twins, but as I revisit those adventures now, I’m really, really disappointed with how poorly they’ve held up for me. Maybe it’s just because the world of superhero animation changed so dramatically with the premiere of “Batman: The Animated Series” in 1992 that it’s hard to take the Super Friends’ adventures seriously anymore. That’s not to say that you won’t find yourself experiencing plenty of fun flashbacks with the heroes’ various puzzles, magic tricks, and safety lessons, but the segments with actual storylines will result in little more than giddy laughter at their ridiculousness.

There’s only one special feature, but as ever for these “Super Friends” sets, it’s a good one: “The Wonder Twins Phenomenon,” which features talking-head contributions from Doug Goldstein and Tom Root (“Robot Chicken”), Kevin Pereira and Olivia Munn (“Attack of the Show”), super-writer Paul Dini, original “Super Friends” writers Alan Burnett and Rich Fogel, and animation historians Jerry Beck and Andy Mangels. Everyone offers their usual blend of childhood reminiscences, first-hand experiences from the animation trenches, and complete and total snark…and, in truth, the combination is exactly what The Wonder Twins deserve. There’s even a brief discussion about Zan and Jayna’s predecessors, Wendy and Marvin, and how inappropriate it was for a couple of powerless teenagers to follow these superheroes around. Say, where did Gleek always manage to pull that bucket from? Never mind. I don’t really want to know.

Click to buy “The All New Super Friends Hour: Season One, Volume Two”

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