Tuned In: Networks plan for fall, produce pilot episodes

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At this point in the TV season, viewers begin to fret about the status of their favorite shows and attempt to read the network tea leaves: What does CBS's decision to keep "Golden Boy" at 10 p.m. Tuesday and move "Vegas" to 9 p.m. Friday mean for either show's chances for renewal?

We'll outline the odds for several marginally rated prime-time series Sunday in TV Week as the annual Keep or Cancel? poll kicks off at post-gazette.com/tv. But even as network executives ponder the fate of shows, they're also playing judge, jury and executioner on a raft of pilots for prospective news series.

It's "pilot season" and these test episodes -- research and development for the TV biz -- are in production, including NBC's Pittsburgh-set modern-day "Hatfields & McCoys" pilot that's filming in Boston. It stars Virginia Madsen ("Smith") as blue collar family matriarch Eloise McCoy and Rebecca DeMornay as wealthy Mary Hatfield. The official description of the show says the family feud is reignited by a "startling death" that unleashes decades of resentment that leads the clans to do battle for control of Pittsburgh.

This year NBC has the most pilots in production -- 26 -- followed by CBS and ABC with 24 each, 16 for Fox and eight for The CW, according to TheWrap.com.

At most, 35 of the 98 commissioned pilots will be picked up to series.

Which potential shows stand the best chance? Networks love a known quantity. So anything that sounds familiar in title or topic (see: "Hatfields & McCoys") probably stands a better chance. Same goes for a known star or producer, which is why NBC ordered a new Michael J. Fox comedy to series without shooting a pilot first.

This pilot season a couple of programs with a military backdrop are in production as are shows about adult children and their parents. The CW has several shows set in the future, including one about humans re-colonizing a nuked-out Earth and another about aliens and humans co-existing. A couple of comedies are about assistants to demanding bosses.

Here are a few of the shows being produced that could become series this fall or next midseason -- we'll know for sure when networks announce their fall schedules the week of May 12:

"Big Thunder" (ABC): Ever ridden the Big Thunder Mountain Railroad ride at a Disney park? That ride was the inspiration for a drama about a New York doctor and his family relocating to a frontier mining town that turns out to have a mysterious underbelly. But does the town have a roller coaster train?

"S.H.I.E.L.D." (ABC): "Avengers" director Joss Whedon directs this small-screen spinoff about a Marvel-universe, secret law-enforcement agency. Clark Gregg ("Avengers") and former Pittsburgher Ming-Na star.

"Beverly Hills Cop" (CBS): The movie series becomes a TV series with Eddie Murphy and Judge Reinhold back as guest stars, but the focus shifts to Aaron (Brandon T. Jackson), son of Axel Foley (Mr. Murphy). Shawn Ryan ("The Shield") wrote the pilot.

"The Surgeon General" (CBS): Still searching for a successful medical show, CBS goes all the way to the top with this drama about the surgeon general of the U.S. (Jason Isaacs).

"NCIS: Red Team" (CBS): An introduction to the characters from this planned spinoff aired on this week's "NCIS: Los Angeles." John Corbett, Scott Grimes and Kim Raver star.

"Crazy Ones" (CBS): Drama writer David E. Kelley tries a half-hour comedy about a father (Robin Williams) and daughter (Sarah Michelle Gellar) who work in the same ad agency.

"The Originals" (The CW): A "Vampire Diaries" spinoff that will first air as a "VD" episode on April 25, this drama follows Klaus (Joseph Morgan) to the French Quarter of New Orleans.

"Delirium" (Fox): Sort of a sexualized version of "Logan's Run," this drama, based on a book series, is set in a world where love is illegal and is eradicated by a procedure when citizens reach a certain age; so naturally a young woman (Emma Roberts) falls in love 95 days before she's due to get that treatment.

"Rake" (Fox): Imagine "House" but with a lawyer (Greg Kinnear) at the center.

"Untitled Dan Goor/Mike Schur Project" (Fox): Andy Samberg ("Saturday Night Live") stars in this comedy about police detectives in a New York City neighborhood.

"Ironside" (NBC): A remake of the 1970s Raymond Burr drama about a police detective in a wheelchair.

"About a Boy" (NBC): "Parenthood" and "Friday Night Lights" writer Jason Katims adapts the Hugh Grant movie for TV with David Walton ("New Girl") in Mr. Grant's role.

"Untitled Victor Fresco & Sean Hayes Project" (NBC): Mr. Hayes, the former "Will & Grace" star, teams with Mr. Fresco, the producer of "Better Off Ted," for a comedy about a man learning to parent his 14-year-old daughter. Linda Lavin ("Alice") co-stars.

Phil Spector movie

Al Pacino and a closet full of crazy wigs star in HBO's "Phil Spector" (9 p.m. Sunday), a movie written and directed by David Mamet about the famed music producer's first trial for the 2003 death of actress Lana Clarkson.

Although the film is about Spector, the real star is actress Helen Mirren as defense attorney Linda Kenney Baden, who initially thinks Spector is guilty but eventually decides he's innocent. (The film sides with Spector, too.)

Although he's playing an eccentric character who is prone to babbling for long stretches, Mr. Pacino actually seems more understated here than in some of his more over-the-top performances.

While lawyers' tactics and Spector's ego all come into play, the film boils down to the attorney-client relationship between Baden and Spector. Fans of legal dramas should be intrigued by "Phil Spector," a well-paced 90-minute character-driven film that HBO is using as a placeholder between the season finale of "Girls" last Sunday and the return of "Game of Thrones" on March 31.

Channel surfing

HBO canceled low-rated series "Enlightened." ... CBS renewed the original "CSI" with star Ted Danson back on board for the 2013-14 TV season. ... NBC's "America's Got Talent" returns for its summer run at 9 p.m. June 4 with new judges Mel B. and Heidi Klum joining returning judges Howard Stern and Howie Mandel. ... Melissa McCarthy ("Mike & Molly") returns to host NBC's "Saturday Night Live" April 6 with musical guest Phoenix; Vince Vaughn will host April 13 with Miguel. ... Syfy has renewed "Face Off" for a fifth season to air this summer. ... Monday's premiere of "Bates Motel" drew 3 million viewers and had the network's best-ever ratings for a drama series premiere in the 18-49 and 25-54 demos. ... It's official: PBS says the most recent season of "Downton Abbey" averaged 11.5 million viewers weekly and is the highest-rated PBS drama of all time. ... From March 25-31, Comcast Xfinity customers, regardless of their level of service, can play catch-up on 3,500 episodes of 100 TV series across 30 premium, cable and broadcast networks, including HBO's "Game of Thrones" and Showtime's "Dexter." ... Anthony Bourdain's new CNN weekend show, "Parts Unknown," will debut April 14 airing at 9 p.m. Sundays. ... Roland Martin is the latest contributor to leave CNN in the wake of new boss Jeff Zucker, who is installing his own team. ... Steve Kornacki will replace Chris Hayes, who moves to weeknight prime time, on MSNBC's "Up" (8-10 a.m. Saturday and Sunday). ... 1997 Upper St. Clair High School grad Anthony Jeselnik, host of Comedy Central's "The Jeselnik Offensive," will hit Pittsburgh on his upcoming stand-up comedy tour. He'll play Carnegie Library Music Hall in Homestead at 7:30 p.m. May 11. ... Destination America's new series "Monsters and Mysteries in America" will include Point Pleasant, W.Va.'s infamous Mothman in its premiere episode at 10 p.m. Sunday. ... Verizon's FiOS TV has added beIN SPORT -- carrying soccer, international tennis, golf and more -- to its lineup as Channel 598. In addition, beIN SPORT en Espanol HD is available on Channel 1598 as part of FiOS TV's Spanish-language packages. ... Fairmount City's Joseph McDaniel will be among the winning traders on CBS's "Let's Make a Deal" (10 a.m. weekdays, KDKA-TV) on March 29.

Tuned In online

Today's TV Q&A column responds to questions about "CSI: New York," "Project Runway" and "Being Human." This week's Tuned In Journal includes posts on "Revolution," a new "Mister Rogers" book for business leaders, "Top of the Lake" and "The Neighbors." Read online-only TV content at post-gazette.com/tv.

This week's podcast includes conversation about "Bates Motel," "Vikings" and CNN coverage of the Steubenville rape trial. Subscribe or listen at http://old.post-gazette.com/podcast.

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TV writer Rob Owen: rowen@post-gazette.com or 412-263-2582. Follow RobOwenTV on Twitter or Facebook for breaking TV news.


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