As Fall TV pilots air and verdicts come in from critics and audiences alike, I’ve been thinking a lot this year about how pilots are different from episode 2.
Pilots are written usually by one person (or the initial creative team/duo) and shot early in the year. By May there’s usually a greenlight verdict, when shows can go forward with production of season one. This is when the writing rooms are hired and the creative team proper begins to form.
[This Washington Square Journal article from gives a mini breakdown of the pilot season schedule from pitches in summer to writing in fall to pilot requests in January to pick ups in May. TV writing books break it down better but I couldn’t find a handy link.]
So the writing process for episode 1 sometime in December or so of the year before is going to be different from an episode written by a writing room, sometimes with a different showrunner, and with additional network and studio notes going forward. Most times this coalesces the show into something that gets better and better as the season(s) progress. Though of course, sometimes instead of getting better, a show can get worse for these very same reasons.
In this way, television boldly asks for a second chance at a first impression. This is why characters go missing from pilot to episode 2 or get dropped very early on, why sets look different. TV Tropes related to his phenomenon: Chuck Cunningham Syndrome, Dropped After the Pilot, Early Installment Weirdness. More people are making decisions and this can help or hinder a pilot in the view of the audience.
Pilots have too much work to do. A lot of pilot episodes place a character in a new setting and they must meet their supporting cast and get a feel for the many different problems a character could face in that situation/place. Pilots are about potential. Episode 2, on the other hand, gives you a better feel for what the show will be on a weekly basis. Where the pilot may introduce many different characters and problems, episode 2 can settle and focus on one of those problems, episode 3 another.
Some of the criticism of Gotham, for instance, has been all of the baby villains being shoehorned into episode 1. Sure, it was a clunky way of doing it, but it was about potential. If episode 2 features all of these cameos with little reason for them, then I’d be concerned, but I am hoping that they will take one piece of episode 1 and focus on it in episode 2, therefore giving us room to breathe in the story. Other shows struggle do this as well. Lost was known for introducing loads and loads of characters in its pilot (though it’s pilot is a bit unfair as it was 2 hours long and produced like a feature film), then focusing on one character per episode via the flashbacks.
On the comedy side, I think of the comparisons of black-ish to The Cosby Show. As I state in my black-ish post, it’s a bit soon to be comparing black-ish to Cosby at its height and when comparing pilots, I think The Cosby Show‘s is stronger writing and humor-wise. But I think Cosby brings to mind something that I hope remains true for black-ish. It had really great ratings (of course it is–it has the coveted Modern Family lead-in and a summer’s worth of anticipation), but it wasn’t flaw free and many are concerned about the message it’s presenting about “being black”–a discussion for another day–so they may not tune in for episode 2. The Cosby Show pilot, besides having a different set, also only features four Huxtable children–poor Sondra was all forgot about (ahem, didn’t exist) when Claire/Cliff (I forget which) states that they have four children. I bring this to mind to say that between the writing of the pilot and episode 2, a decision to make the family actually match Bill Cosby’s real-life family make up was made and the show progressed from there and gained additional story potential for it.
Anything can happen between episodes 1 and 2, there’s so much time between them. So if there’s a show you were invested in and the pilot didn’t quite grab you, at least give episode 2 a shot. Things could have changed for the better.
Is Black-ish the new Cosby Show? I'm not so sure, but there's certainly potential. Also, Tracee Ellis Ross kills it.
One of the batch of romcom/sitcoms coming this fall, I came in around the middle of Manhattan Love Story. The thing that made me enjoy this was the main character (I forget her name) got trapped in a staircase at work and had to walk all the way down out the building. She landed in a dirty alley, I set off an alarm at 30 Rock when I interned there… I related to that moment, so I was engaged lol.
It wasn’t a strong pilot, really, but not terrible. I’m not really feeling the male love interest or her best friend and the BFFs husband seemed to have been hitting on the main character? Very skeezy. Maybe I missed important exposition on their relationship, but I didn’t get a good grasp on their relationships. I think the love interest definitely needs to lose the beard, it tonally matches his face too closely, made me really dislike him. It might be a nice thread if her list of NYC places is featured in every episode, but I don’t know how far that takes us.
Between this, Marry Me, and A to Z, there seems to be an advent of meet-cute, fall in love type stories, which might wash the palate of what How I Met Your Mother could have been in its last season. Seeing how Cristin Milioti is in a meet-cute/fall in love show this season, I’ll have to watch that just to see if it makes up for how HIMYM failed me. But I’m thinking HIMYM’s success and the success of the final season (up to the finale itself) is why there are so many rom-com/sit-coms on right now. This is the new comedy trend it seems; moving away from the family or office comedy.
VERDICT: Might binge a few on Hulu after like 3 episodes, but so far I’m not really all that invested.
My intro post on my visit to the NYC Paley Center for their Fall TV Previews screenings. I watched ten different pilots and will post reviews on all of them. First four will be up, other links added later. What's the biggest pilot surprise of the season?
Fox Pulls Plug on ‘Hieroglyph’ – Hollywood Reporter
Oh no! FOX cancels Hieroglyph before it’s fall debut! I was looking forward to checking this out, due to the diverse casting (though had qualms about it after learning the true lead was another white male), but looks like I won’t be checking it out after all.
The article mentions Kevin Reilly, entertainment chairman of FOX, and his initial decision to “end pilot season” before stepping down only a few weeks ago. I suppose only he was ready to revamp the way we greenlight shows, since this show is being cut. THR states some creative differences, but it makes me wonder if other shows from the Reilly era are safe before fall…
I could just stare at that promo poster featuring Condola Rashad all day; perhaps I’ll make a poster in memoriam of this series that was truly nipped in the bud.
Just how gorgeous is this image? (I love and wear gold eyeliner.) I’ve been excited about Hieroglyph since I heard about it for several reasons. Number 1 being diversity. From the trailer, the cast seems really mixed. Often, tales in Egypt get whitewashed (then tanned), but this story actually includes people of color. Exciting!
Also, I really like Ancient and Classic Antiquity (thanks wikipedia!) Egypt. Two reasons for this: The Royal Diaries book series, of which Cleopatra – Daughter of the Nile was one of my favorites to read and reread (I might just do that, for my other blog). And The Mummy (this one’s a bit more obvious and standard). I think this will be a cool show and will get to explore some lesser known mythologies, now that fairy tale and mythology shows are coming back into fashion. Of course I love the idea of it being a supernatural, fantastical story with mystery, action-adventure, and intrigue.
It’s not airing until 2015, presumably in Sleepy Hollow’s time slot (though I wish they were being paired together), but I can’t wait to check it out.
Watch the teaser trailer below:
Let’s start network-wide. Fox and NBC swapped for me in the past year, NBC going from a favorite, most watched network, to me having one show next season (the mid-season, finale season Parks debacle…). While FOX went from me abandoning several of it’s shows due to reordering episodes and demanding stasis in characters that achieved character development to the network I have the most shows I am interested in this fall. And FOX pulled me in with the commitment and success in diversity. So let’s talk about what they’re doing this fall.
NBC– honey, what are you doing? They’ve cancelled most of their comedies, leaving Parks and Recreation, their current longest running sitcom as a mid-season replacement in it’s finale season. According to the schedule listed in the link on Vulture, there are only 4 comedies on the schedule, split between Tuesday and Thursday 9-10 comedy hours. What? Has NBC given up on reclaiming it’s must-see-tv fame? I suppose it wasn’t working, but it kills me that not one of the four comedies is Parks. What a way to alienate your little comedy fanbase. Why not use Parks and the final season momentum to pull your existing fans over to new shows? You now have to do the work to get non-NBC comedy watchers (those who didn’t watch 30 Rock and Community and Parks in the hey-day of low-rated but cult favorite comedies). I suppose they no longer want those fans. They want new ones entirely. Or they’re trying to sustain the network on the Voice, Dick Wolf, and the Blacklist until they figure out something that works. But, to me, it doesn’t seem like they’ve found the formula yet. I’ll see you mid-season, NBC, when you put Parks and Recreation back on the schedule. (Let’s face it, it’s a cancelled-new-show replacement. As soon as one of the new comedies fail, they’ll stick Parks in the 9pm comedy spot until the rest of the season is done. More on Parks later.
FOX, homie, you’re doing a lot of things right, but one thing feels very wrong. I will be watching seven FOX shows this fall. That’s more than any other network and more than I’ve ever watched FOX. They’ve been getting some good, diversely cast comedies in these past couple of seasons. New Girl confirmed Damon Wayans Jr as the 6th member of the cast, rounding them out to Friends proportions, The Mindy Project had a strong finale with lots of possibility, and Brooklyn 99 came out of the gate with comedy, diversity, and heart. So why are they sending Brooklyn 99 to the Sunday animation slot?! It seems ridiculous to me. Vulture says,
There’s logic behind this year’s changes: Family Guy is pretty much a multi-camera sitcom that happens to be animated, and Mulaney is multi-cam; Brooklyn is sophisticated single-cam that could mesh with the sensibility of The Simpsons. And once Fox picked up both Brooklyn and The Mindy Project, it was obvious one would either move or wait until midseason: Fox simply doesn’t have the comedy strength to support a two-hour sitcom block on Tuesdays.
But that seems absurd. I definitely think they could sustain it. But even if it can’t, splitting the comedies into the animation block disturbs something that’s been working on FOX for years now. Animation fans won’t necessarily hold up these fresh comedies and when was the last time comedies aired on a Sunday night?! This makes me nervous for both BK99 and Mulaney (which I may watch), because they’re basically hiding it in the schedule. No one looks for comedies on Sunday nights. That’s typically a Feature film, Sports, Drama night. FOX made success with animation as alternative programming to this trend, but this upcoming change might break both the animation block and the comedies they want to succeed. Sigh. There are few shows I want to succeed more than Brooklyn 99. I hope they just suck it up and block the comedies together.
Schedules change, often by November sweeps when networks figure out what’s working and what’s getting cancelled. So we’ll see if this remains the schedule for the fall. But both networks are boggling my mind.
It’s that time of the year, Upfronts (also here for another way to look at what Upfronts actually are), when networks present their pilot season shows and lineups to advertisers and the general public. I’ve been a bit busy or lethargic the last month or so, so I haven’t been posting (though I’ve been pleasantly surprised at the views I’ve still managed to get) but get ready for a deluge as I look at shows coming this summer, fall, and beyond, and discuss current shows’ trajectories (I’m
a bit mad about NBC’s treatment of Parks and Recreation. We’ll get there).
I’ll write a bunch and try to spread them out over the week as to not spam. Also, I’ll post my current fall tv chart–it’s looking as busy as usual as I find out about all these new shows!
Let the Upfront madness begin!
With Scandal ruling primetime and star Kerry Washington becoming an awards season fixture, more pilots led by black actors are in the works this season.
These are some of the black actors getting roles in upcoming pilots: Viola Davis, Anthony Anderson, Kevin Hart, Craig Robinson, Terrence Howard, Taraji P. Henson, Jada Pinkett Smith, Octavia Spencer, & Halle Berry. This is a star studded list of people and doesn’t even include the actors from FOX’s upcoming Hieroglyph, who are less mainstream A-/B-list actors. It’s wonderful getting to see more faces of color on television, hopefully with stories that diversify the stereotypes often relegated to such characters.
Now we just have to hope these shows get picked up past their pilots, so we actually get to see them act in these shows.
For the last few days, I’ve been showcasing some pilots being worked on this season with diverse casting. Here are some more that might be coming to our screens in the fall, but maybe I am less invested in. I found them by checking the TVLine descriptions and seeing which actors/producers are PoCs. If a show coming up with PoCs is being made but not on this list, I just didn’t notice. Definitely not an extensive list, and I’ll be keeping an eye out for more along the way.
Descriptions are from TVLine
Fresh Off the Boat (Comedy)
EPs | Nahnatchka Kahn (Don’t Trust the B—- in Apartment 23), Jake Kasdan, and Melvin Mar
It’s the 90’s and hip hop loving Eddie is growing up in suburban Orlando, raised by an immigrant father who is obsessed with all things American and an immigrant mother who is often bewildered by white culture. With his father owning and operating an All-American Steakhouse chain, this loving family of FOB (“fresh off the boat”) Taiwanese Americans try to live the American dream while still maintaining their cultural identity and sense of family. [ABC]
I hope this makes it just because its an ethnicity we don’t get to see much of on television. The specifics of Asian culture is often grossly glossed over. I went to school with Asian students with families from all over the continent, so I got a chance to learn about different aspects of Asian life and how each nationality differs from each other, but most Americans don’t know Asian from being specifically Chinese or Japanese. Just because TV is entertainment, doesn’t mean you should never learn anything about different people.
How to Get Away With Murder (Drama)
EPs | Peter Nowalk (Grey’s Anatomy), Shonda Rhimes, Betsy Beers
A sexy, suspense-driven legal thriller about a group of ambitious law students and their brilliant, mysterious criminal defense professor who become entangled in a murder plot that will rock the entire university and change the course of their lives. [ABC]
No guarantees on who the casting will be for this one, but as a Shonda Rhimes show, it is sure to have color-blind casting.
Untitled Kevin Hart Project (Comedy)
EPs | Kevin Hart, Dave Becky, Neil Goldman and Garrett Donovan (Community)
Based on Kevin Hart’s life and stand-up, it takes a candid look at the post-divorce life of a couple trying to forge a friendship for the sake of their kids, despite differences. [ABC]
Kevin Hart has been everywhere. He has like 4 movies out, 3 shows in development, and who knows what else. I don’t know if that over-saturation is stifling his true funniness (some people have said his stand-up special wasn’t as good as the previous ones), but hopefully this turns out good. Kevin Hart is funny and we have zero black sitcoms on network TV. If this AND Blackish get greenlit, that would make a grand total of 2. #sigh
The Flash (Drama)
EPs | Greg Berlanti (Arrow), Andrew Kreisberg, Geoff Johns, David Nutter, Melissa Kellner Berman
DIRECTOR | David Nutter (Arrow)
CAST | Grant Gustin (Glee), Jesse L. Martin (Law & Order), Danielle Panabaker (Shark) and Rick Cosnett (The Vampire Diaries)
The Arrow spin-off follows Barry Allen, a Central City assistant police forensics investigator with a tragic past.
Jesse L. Martin is all I have to say. I bit token-esque, but I’ll let it go lol.
Cabot College (Comedy)
EPs | Matt Hubbard, Tina Fey, Robert Carlock, Pam Fryman, David Miner
DIRECTOR | Pam Fryman (How I Met Your Mother)
CAST | Bonnie Dennison (Third Watch), Jack Cutmore-Scott, Brandon Jones, Margaret Cho (Drop Dead Diva)
A women’s college begins accepting men for the first time in its history.
While I’ll give any new show from Tina a chance, it featuring Margaret Cho is a plus in the diversity factor. Also Pam Fryman from HIMYM fame is a plus for me.
EPs | Danny Strong (The Butler), Lee Daniels (The Butler), Brian Grazer, Francie Calfo
DIRECTOR | Lee Daniels (The Butler)
A unique family drama set in the world of a hip-hop empire [FOX]
I probably wouldn’t watch this, but it could be a great black drama, which are even harder to name than black comedies…
Mr. Robinson (Comedy) — ORDERED TO SERIES
EPs | Mark Cullen and Rob Cullen (Back in the Game), Howard Klein, Mark Schulman
CAST | Craig Robinson (The Office), Larenz Tate (House of Lies), Amanda Lund, Jean Smart (Harry’s Law, Hawaii Five-0)
A talented musician adjusts to his new life as a middle school music teacher, where he maneuvers precocious kids, teacher politics, and the temptations of single moms. [NBC]
This one’s already been ordered to series and stars Office alum Craig Robinson. So there will be at least one new black sitcom coming in fall. It sounds very similar to the Steve Harvey Show, so I’ll have to check it out to see how it’s different/updated for the new millennium.
It surprises me not one bit that none of these shows are for CBS… I don’t remember any for the CW either (and with it’s WB/UPN strong PoC cast roots, this is sad to say).
IO’m excited for all of these shows featuring people of color. It’s about time we got some new faces on our TV screens. Hopefully these survive pilot season and we get to at least give them a test run in September.
for more, check TVLine’s Pilot Scoop