Decades ago, the pageantry of the broadcast upfront presentations culminated in the shows’ big attraction — each network unveiling their fall schedule to advertisers. The dissemination of information in the era of the Internet took away the shock and awe of the reveals as the schedules are now announced in advance, while the proliferation of broadband, which allows people to watch TV on their own time, took away the grids’ relevance as an increasing portion of viewing of broadcast shows comes from digital platforms.
Your Complete Guide to Pilots and Straight-to-Series orders
Add to that the fact that broadcast networks have become a small portion of media congloms’ portfolio pitch to advertisers and that the development cycle has shifted post-pandemic, with only a portion of this year’s pilots in upfront consideration, and the unveiling of a fall schedule at the May 2022 presentations does not have the importance and urgency it once did.
We may have the first broadcast upfront where a network does not present a fall schedule this year. I hear Fox is leaning towards not unveiling a grid at its May 16 event on the first day of the traditional upfront week. The network’s new and returning series will be highlighted but the actual fall schedule may be released a few days later. For now, ABC, CBS, NBC and the CW all plan to unveil fall schedules at the upfronts, even as ABC and NBC will only have a fraction of their pilots delivered and screened for consideration by then.
Keeping a Deadline tradition, below is a rundown on some early standouts among the crop of 2022 broadcast pilots that are expected to be a factor for fall. As is the case with any early buzz, take the information with an oversized grain of salt as there is still very little information on a number of pilots. The picture is expected to get much clearer by end of this week as the bulk of finished pilots will be screened over the next five days. That will be reflected in our next Pilot buzz story. For notable trends this season, read Deadline’s Pilot Season 2022: Presentations & Writers Rooms Gain Ground, Comedy Retreats As Cycle Stretches Past Upfronts and Pilot Season 2022: Projected Volume Well Below Pre-Pandemic Levels As Covid-Imposed Changes Take Hold.)
ABC has a handful of completed pilots it will be considering for fall, The Rookie planted spinoff starring Niecy Nash, the off-cycle drama pilots for the Alaska project starring Hilary Swank and an LA Law sequel, headlined by Blair Underwood, as well as comedy pilots Josep and Not Dead Yet. (As we reported last month, the ordered pilots that won’t be ready for upfront consideration include dramas The Company You Keep, Untitled Kay Oyegun, Will Trent and Untitled National Parks and comedy The Son In Law. David E. Kelley’s straight-to-series drama Avalon is believed to be for midseason.)
Of the pilots for fall, the Rookie spinoff seems to have the strongest buzz and appears likely to get on the schedule. With the mothership series already renewed, ABC will likely look to create a second two-hour franchise block in the mold of Station 19 and Grey’s Anatomy. The Alaska drama, which had some early momentum, appears to be regaining some of it heading into the final stretch with a search underway for a showrunner. Given LA Law‘s iconic IP status, the bar for the followup is very high.
The situation at CBS is very murky as usual as the network traditionally takes a deliberate approach so favorites emerge later in the process. Firefighter drama Cal Fire appears to be a strong early standout. Beyond that, there is buzz around the Early Edition reboot, cop drama East New York, comedy presentation Hug Machine, and comedy pilot Rust Belt News. True Lies has been a conundrum. It was an off-cycle pilot so the network has had it for awhile. It opted not to pull the trigger on a series pickup but didn’t pass on the pilot either. I hear not everyone at CBS loves it but the pilot still has strong support and could go, backed by an attractive deal.
NBC has only one drama pilot in consideration for fall, Quantum Leap, and two comedy ones, Lopez vs. Lopez and Hungry. Dramas Unbroken and Blank Slate will be finished by the network’s May 16 presentation, but won’t be screened until after the upfronts; I hear they’ll be in consideration for November 2022 or midseason 2023. Dramas Found, The Irrational and Untitled Mike Daniels will not be completed.
Quantum Leap, which has been making deals with writers, is considered a very strong contender for a series order, with Raymond Lee getting props for what would be a breakout role as the lead. It appears to be a tossup between the two comedies, with Lopez vs. Lopez, a collaboration between George Lopez and his daughter, said to have the edge at the moment. It also is making offers to writers.
Fox ordered only one pilot during the traditional pilot window this year, an Untitled Michelle Nader comedy presentation. (The network in 2020 modified its development model to include comedy presentations instead of full half-hour pilots that can get quite expensive when single-camera, and a mix of traditional pilots and writers rooms-to-series orders for drama.)
I hear the Michelle Nader presentation has been well received and looks good for a pickup. A dark comedy script, Cindy Snow from Steve Yockey, also has been heating up.
Fox’s drama orders this pilot season — End of Watch, Hell or High Water and Alert — all received versions of script-to-series commitments that involve additional scripts, format or material. Of the trio, Alert has been gaining momentum for awhile and has been rumored for an upfront series order.
The CW ordered three pilots this season, all based on underlying IP, Gotham Knights, Supernatural prequel The Winchesters and Walker origin story Walker: Independence. That is half the number of pilots the CW used to pick up pre-pandemic. The network has been very disciplined in its programming decisions this year as it is in a process of being sold while also dealing with the effects of one of its two parent companies, Warner Bros., transitioning to a new ownership post-Discovery merger.
None of the pilots have been delivered yet as they have largely just wrapped production. The CW brass seem to be high on all three in the early going — with Walker: Independence getting props for delivering an expansive Western feel, The Winchesters being tipped as the strongest attempt at a Supernatural spinoff to date, and Gotham Kings considered another solid DC pilot from Berlanti Prods. There is a chance for all three to go to series, I hear. If that happens, there will likely be more cancellations as the CW is targeting a smaller overall number of new and returning series than previous years, and the decision on pilots would impact the decisions on bubble series.
As Deadline reported in the Bubble Watch 2022 last month, the three remaining DC series at the time — veteran Legends of Tomorrow, Batwoman and freshman Naomi — would be in consideration alongside DC pilot Gotham Knights, and only about half of the four projects were expected to make it to next season. Batwoman and Gotham Knights are set in a similar universe, so it was likely that only one of them is picked up for next season.
The CW on Friday canceled both Batwoman and Legends of Tomorrow. This improves significantly the chances for both a Gotham Knights pickup and Naomi renewal. Also working in Gotham Knights‘ favor is the fact that, unlike Batwoman, it is more closely integrated into the Batman universe and has characters that appear in the Batman movies. If the DC drama is picked up, the network will likely have a sizzle reel to show to advertisers at the upfronts vs. a full pilot because of the extensive post-production needed to add special effects.
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