By Gary Levin
Aiming to battle viewer apathy over many of this year's shows, the big broadcast networks are busily crafting a new crop for next season, featuring big names and well-known titles.
Some projects are already locked in: Michael J. Fox returns to NBC this fall with an untitled sitcom about a news anchor who returns to work after treating a disease (Fox has Parkinson's), and the network has a new Dracula in Jonathan Rhys-Meyers (The Tudors). Animation king (and Oscar host) Seth MacFarlane has an early six-episode commitment from Fox for Dads, in which the lives of two single pals are interrupted when their dads move in, a recurring theme among several proposed comedies.
Of the nearly 100 other pilots vying for scarce spots on network schedules, there are safer bets such asS.H.I.E.L.D., marking Disney-owned Marvel's first collaboration with ABC, with Joss Whedon (The Avengers) at the helm; CBS' Beverly Hills Cop,centering on Axel Foley's son, with producer Eddie Murphy slated to reprise his role; Mom, a CBS comedy starring Anna Faris and Allison Janney from hit producer Chuck Lorre (The Big Bang Theory); and an untitled Fox cop comedy starring Andy Samberg and Andre Braugher.
Other stars betting on TV returns include Robin Williams as an adman in CBS' David E. Kelley comedy Crazy Ones; James Caan as an ABC sitcom dad; Lost's Josh Holloway, resurfacing as an agent with a special gift in CBS' Intelligence; Sean Hayes (Will & Grace) in an NBC father-daughter comedy; and Toni Collette in Hostages, a CBS conspiracy drama from producer Jerry Bruckheimer.
Hostages marks one trend - "more thrillers this season," says Carolyn Finger, who tracks development activity for Variety Insights - based on buzz surroundingHomeland and The Following. That's especially true at ABC, where "so many of their pilots were straight-ahead soap operas last season; they need to bring some male viewers back to the network. "
Familiar faces and remakes are easier to promote than untested concepts, but offer no guarantee of success. Recent attempts to reboot Charlie's Angels, Knight Riderand Bionic Woman fizzled, but NBC will try again with Ironside, starring Blair Underwood as the wheelchair-bound detective that Raymond Burr made popular in the late 1960s. From feature films, CBS is eyeing a redo of Bad Teacher, while NBC is mulling About a Boy. And spinoffs of existing shows remain alluring: John Corbett will appear in two April episodes of NCIS: Los Angeles as an analyst, and possible new-series star, while CW plots The Originals with an April episode of The Vampire Diaries, part of its marked shift away from female soaps.
Disney had success with Pirates of the Caribbean, so now ABC is mining another Disneyland ride with Big Thunder, set in a frontier town, one of several Western-themed pilots that also include Fox's Sleepy Hollow, NBC's The Sixth Gun and a present-day version of Hatfields & McCoys, the feuding clans at the center of a hit History miniseries.
And Ironside isn't the only irascible protagonist in the works: Seeking the next House-style anti-hero, Hart Hanson (Bones) is behind Backstrom, a potential CBS drama about an overweight sleuth, based on a Swedish book series; Fox is eyeing Rake, starring Greg Kinnear as a filter-free defense lawyer; and House creator David Shore's next project is Doubt, about an ex-cop turned low-rent lawyer who's battling his own demons.