Once upon a time, networks aired failed pilots in the summer, but that rarely happens anymore. So it's a treat to get a glimpse at what could have been with NBC's "Munsters" remake, "Mockingbird Lane" (8 tonight, WPXI).
NBC reportedly has scrapped a "Mockingbird Lane" series, although in the new, flexible and fluid TV universe, anything is possible, so that could change. But I doubt it will.
Written by "Pushing Daisies" creator Bryan Fuller and directed by feature film helmer Bryan Singer (several "X-Men" films, the pilot for TV's "House"), "Mockingbird Lane" is funny, fanciful, a visual treat and, perhaps surprisingly, full of heart.
"Mockingbird Lane" begins with a scouting troop around a campfire when a creature begins attacking them. Turns out the creature is little Eddie Munster (Mason Cook), one of the scouts himself, who also happens to be a werewolf on full moon nights. Eddie doesn't know he's the one responsible for the attack, and his parents, Herman (Jerry O'Connell, "Carpoolers") and Lily (Portia de Rossi, "Better off Ted"), agonize over whether to tell him the truth.
Their initial instinct is to avoid the conversation altogether by moving away. Seemingly "normal" cousin Marilyn (Charity Wakefield) spearheads the house hunting efforts that lead the family to move into 1313 Mockingbird Lane. A neighbor tries to warn them away, saying it's the former home of a serial killer who poisoned hobos and may have left dead homeless people in the walls.
"Then they found a home after all," Marilyn says.
Grandpa Munster (Eddie Izzard, "The Riches") is the family troublemaker -- he's a vampire -- who's also tasked with keeping Frankenstein-like Herman alive by harvesting hearts, including, potentially, the heart of Eddie's new scoutmaster (Cheyenne Jackson, "30 Rock").
"Eddie has so few male role models, and we can't have Grandpa eating one of them," Lily protests.
Humor and heart define "Mockingbird Lane," a thoroughly entertaining hour of TV that explores the role of the outsider, a frequent theme in Mr. Fuller's work. But it's not clear who the show's intended audience is: Kids? Families? Genre geeks? "Mockingbird Lane" has elements that appeal to all those constituencies but one of the few logical spots for it on NBC's schedule is 8 p.m. Friday as a lead-in to "Grimm." "Mockingbird Lane" may be a more expensive show to produce than NBC would want to use in a low-reward Friday time slot.
"Mockingbird Lane" isn't the only new Halloween-themed program to air this spooky season. Tonight at 7, Hallmark Channel debuts a "Hoops & Yoyo's Haunted Halloween," an animated special starring the Hallmark Cards characters.
This weekend, cable's Chiller debuts "The American Scream" (8 p.m. Sunday), an earnest documentary film about three families who put together homemade haunted houses in Fairhaven, Mass. Chiller is available on Verizon's FiOS TV (Channel 193), Armstrong (449), DirecTV (257) and Dish (199). Comcast does not carry Chiller locally.
We're a month into the 2012-13 TV season, and so far two shows have been canceled (CBS's "Made in Jersey" and NBC's "Animal Practice"). Viewers often say they don't want to get hooked on a show only to have it canceled on them. So how are ratings for the other new shows?
Turns out, it's getting more difficult to figure that out. Overnight ratings are no longer as important. Networks also look at ratings for DVR, on demand and online viewing, which take several weeks to come together to form a coherent picture. So here's where the new series stand:
Doing pretty well: NBC's "Revolution" (10 p.m. Monday) saw its premiere ratings grow dramatically -- 9.2 million viewers to 14.2 million viewers, according to The Associated Press -- when DVR, on demand and online viewing were factored in.
NBC's "Go On" (9 p.m. Tuesday) and "The New Normal" (9:30 p.m. Tuesday) are holding up pretty well. The same is true for CBS's "Elementary" (10 p.m. Thursday) and ABC's "The Neighbors" (8:30 p.m. Wednesday).
The CW's "Arrow" (8 p.m. Wednesday) is a hit for the fifth network.
In the murky middle: Fox seems more bullish on "The Mindy Project" (9:30 p.m. Tuesday), ordering a full first season; the network picked up additional but fewer episodes of "Ben and Kate" (8:30 p.m. Tuesday)
ABC's "Nashville" (10 p.m. Wednesday) drew the best reviews among new fall season broadcast network shows, but its ratings have been a disappointment. Last week FX's "American Horror Story" beat "Nashville" among adults ages 18-34.
The CW's "Emily Owens, M.D." and "Beauty and the Beast" (9 p.m. Thursday) and CBS's "Vegas" (10 p.m. Tuesday) are also in this category.
In trouble: ABC's "666 Park Avenue" (10 p.m. Sunday) and "Last Resort" (8 p.m. Thursday), CBS's "Partners" (8:30 p.m. Monday), Fox's "Mob Doctor" (9 p.m. Monday, returning next month) and NBC's "Guys With Kids" (8:30 p.m. Wednesday) and "Chicago Fire" (10 p.m. Wednesday) will all be considered on life support if their ratings don't perk up soon.
Series scoring renewals this week are The CW's "Arrow" and CBS's "Elementary" and "Vegas" (for full first seasons) and Fox's "X Factor" (for a third season to air in fall 2013).
On cable, Showtime renewed "Homeland" for a third season.
In other ratings news, PBS reports ratings for its children's programs are at their best among kids 2-5 this past September compared to the past 10 years. Among the series helping spur interest: "Daniel Tiger's Neighborhood," produced by Oakland-based The Fred Rogers Company.
Here's how the shows ranked beginning with No. 1: "Curious George," "Thomas & Friends," "Cat in the Hat," "Super WHY!," "Daniel Tiger's Neighborhood" and "Dinosaur Train."
"Arthur" and "Sesame Street" were tied at No. 22 with Disney Channel's "SAO: Three Healthy Steps." PBS Kids' "Wild Kratts" came in at No. 25, "Sid the Science Kid" ranked No. 35, "Martha Speaks" was No. 40 and "WordGirl" was No. 52.
PBS's kids programming is easily the best children's entertainment available. It will be a shame if some American viewers lose access to it if Gov. Mitt Romney is elected president and keeps his pledge to cease federal funding of PBS, an act that would not kill Big Bird but, PBS leaders say, it would likely result in some PBS stations going dark. That would amount to the same essential result: Children in communities that no longer have a PBS station would not have access to PBS's high quality children's programming.
As expected, "Private Practice" will end after the current 13-episode season. Star Kate Walsh had planned to bow out at that point anyway, which would have forced ABC to retool the show. ... NBC's "Saturday Night Live" is dark this week but returns with a new episode Nov. 3 hosted by Louis C.K. (FX's "Louie") with musical guest fun. ... AMC and DISH Network finally made peace last weekend, returning AMC networks to the satellite system's lineup. AMC is already back; IFC, Sundance, WE TV return on Nov. 1. ... Verizon's FiOS TV has added Cartoon Network HD as Channel 757. ... Comcast's Xfinity and The CW have reached a deal to provide CW shows on Comcast's on demand platform the day after they air on live TV. ... At 4 p.m. Sunday, WQED-TV will air "Going Blind: Coming Out of the Dark About Vision Loss," directed by filmmaker Joseph Lovett, who has glaucoma. In advance of the broadcast, Mr. Lovett will speak at 7 a.m. today at the Eye and Ear Institute, 203 Lothrop St., Room S120, Oakland.
Today's TV Q&A column responds to questions about "Psych," "Dogs in the City" and "Anderson Live." This week's Tuned In Journal includes posts on "The Walking Dead," "Happy Endings," "Don't Trust the B---- in Apartment 23," "Nashville" and "Dallas." Read online-only TV content at post-gazette.com/tv.
This week's podcast includes conversations about "American Horror Story," "Underemployed" and "Emily Owens, M.D." Subscribe or listen at http://old.post-gazette.com/podcast.
TV writer Rob Owen: firstname.lastname@example.org or 412-263-2582. Follow RobOwenTV on Twitter or Facebook for breaking TV news.