Network execs on the hunt for the next big hits

By Gail Pennington

St. Louis Post-Dispatch

Published: Wednesday, Feb. 22 2012 6:00 p.m. MST

Ron Perlman and Linda Hamilton starred in "Beauty and the Beast." The CW is looking at updating the romance series, which originally aired from 1987-1990 on CBS.

Paramount home entertainment

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Did you hear about the new sitcom that will reunite Roseanne Barr and John Goodman? How about Reba McEntire's return to TV, or Marc Cherry's follow-up to "Desperate Housewives"?

Before you get too excited, though, hold on a minute. None of the new network shows you're hearing about right now is a done deal — far from it, in fact.

This is pilot season in Hollywood. At this point, executives of the broadcast networks have considered all the pitches they've heard for new series and read all the scripts they've received. The next step, for the lucky ones, is "going to pilot," as the network orders one episode produced.

Making a pilot episode is a big deal, and expensive, calling for casting actors, assembling a writing staff, hiring crew and creating sets. In a best-case scenario, this pilot will be picked up as a series, and the episode being produced now will be the one shown to advertisers at the "upfronts" in May as the networks announce their fall schedules.

Most pilots, however, go nowhere; the network passes, the actors and writers are released, and the sets are torn down.

The pilot itself generally goes unseen.

As long as you take pilot announcements with the necessary skepticism, though, they provide an interesting preview of how the next TV season could look.

Which pilots the networks order also show what they're looking for; in this case, dramas with supernatural elements seem big, along with prime-time soaps; comedies often center on unconventional families or living situations.

Where there's a rule, of course, there's usually an exception. NBC just ordered "Hannibal," a serial-killer thriller spinning off the Thomas Harris-Hannibal Lecter character, not as a pilot but as a series of at least 13 episodes. Picking up a show without making a pilot first can be risky business, but it's also a big money saver; in this case, NBC — in need of many new series for fall — was willing to take the chance.

Here are some of this year's highest-profile pilots, many of which still don't have stars and some of which remain untitled. But remember: Don't count on seeing them.

"Downwardly Mobile" (NBC) — Barr stars as the tough-talking, good-hearted manager of a mobile home park in a comedy that reunites Barr with Goodman as the park's handyman.

"Malibu Country" (ABC) — In a comedy that sounds, superficially at least, a lot like "Reba," McEntire is a newly divorced mom of three who moves the family to her rock star ex's house in Malibu, Calif., from Nashville, Tenn., and tries to restart her singing career.

"Devious Maids" (ABC) — Marc Cherry follows "Desperate Housewives" with this telenovela adaptation about four ambitious maids in Beverly Hills.

Untitled Mindy Kaling comedy (Fox) — Kaling (Kelly Kapoor on "The Office") is creator and star of a comedy about a young doctor described as "Bridget Jones"-esque. Fox reportedly picked up the pilot after NBC passed; a spin-off of "The Office" featuring Rainn Wilson's Dwight character is said to be in the works at NBC.

"Beauty and the Beast" (CW) — Not the fairy tale, this one updates the 1980s romance series that originally starred Ron Perlman and Linda Hamilton.

"Beauty and the Beast" (ABC) — This one's the fairy tale, reimagined as a princess who makes a connection with a beast.

"The Carrie Diaries" (CW) — Josh Schwartz and author Candace Bushnell are executive producers of a "Sex and the City" prequel featuring Carrie Bradshaw in the 1980s.

"Friday Night Dinner" (NBC) — Tony Shalhoub and Allison Janney head the cast of a comedy about a traditional Jewish family.

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