A Trying Time of Year

Michael J. Fox, with Jack Gore, leads NBC’s new comedies.
Michael J. Fox, with Jack Gore, leads NBC’s new comedies.

Pilot season — the arduous, antiquated process by which the broadcast networks order new programming — is a complicated and costly endeavor. Even if a show becomes a series, there’s no guarantee it will last more than an episode or two. ABC, CBS, Fox and NBC pour millions into new pilots, but each year, only a few succeed. (Only seven of the networks’ series that premiered in 2012 are getting second seasons.) Last week were the upfronts, when said networks unveiled nearly 50 new scripted series for advertisers, the press and the public via short teaser trailers. That’s a lot to sort through, so we drew some conclusions on your behalf. Keep in mind: We haven’t seen any of these shows in full, so our analysis is mostly speculative.

All in the NBC Family

New sitcoms starring Michael J. Fox, Sean Hayes and Mike O’Malley? You haven’t traveled back in time — it’s the new Thursday night on NBC. “The Michael J. Fox Show,” “Sean Saves the World” and “Welcome to the Family” mark the network’s shift to family comedy. Only Fox’s offering, in which he plays a Parkinson’s-stricken news anchor who goes back to work, looks promising. If you like exasperated dads and cheap physical comedy, then the other two — involving, respectively, a single gay father raising a daughter and an unplanned teen pregnancy that unites two very different families — NBC is the network for you.

Hey, You Look Familiar

Big names star in pilots this year, including Robin Williams and Sarah Michelle Gellar in the CBS comedy “The Crazy Ones.” CBS has Will Arnett on the sitcom “The Millers”; Fox is betting on Andy Samberg to headline cop comedy “Brooklyn Nine-Nine”; and ABC jumps on the Rebel Wilson bandwagon with “Super Fun Night.” On the drama side, Greg Kinnear is a “House”-like lawyer on Fox’s “Rake,” and Blair Underwood anchors NBC’s remake of the 1970s cop drama “Ironside.”

Giovanni Ribisi, Seth Green, Martin Mull and Peter Riegert star in “Dads.”
Giovanni Ribisi, Seth Green, Martin Mull and Peter Riegert star in “Dads.”

Have Show, Will Have Another

The easiest way to get a show on network TV may be to already have a show on TV. Geek god J.J. Abrams is behind “Believe” — about an orphan girl who can levitate and control nature (this joins Abrams’ “Revolution” on NBC) — and “Almost Human” — about cops and robots — on Fox. Fox is also giving Seth MacFarlane another show, “Dads,” a live-action series starring Giovanni Ribisi and Seth Green as man-children dealing with their immature fathers. And then there’s CBS sitcom overlord Chuck Lorre, who adds “Mom,” featuring Anna Faris as a newly sober single mother, to his formulaic, laugh-track roster.

Return of the Miniseries

The miniseries — aka the limited series or event series — gets a big boost from the return of Jack Bauer in the 12-hour “24: Live Another Day,” on Fox in the spring. Fox also commissioned a limited series from M. Night Shyamalan called “Wayward Pines,” which will have a shocking twist each week that will, in retrospect, seem dumb. NBC will air two short series: “Dracula,” starring Jonathan Rhys Meyers as the titular vampire, and “Crossbones,” with John Malkovich as Blackbeard.

Modern ‘Marvel’

No show looks as promising as “Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.” The ABC drama from “The Avengers” director Joss Whedon resurrects S.H.I.E.L.D. agent Phil Coulson (Clark Gregg), who died in “Avengers,” to lead a group of agents who “protect the ordinary from the extraordinary.”

Rudi Greenberg is Express' Weekend Pass editor and comedy columnist.
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Holley Simmons · May 17, 2013