The Good, the Bad and the Ugly

With 26 new shows set to launch this fall, the broadcast networks are once again slugging it out to get their rookies noticed.

The networks throw big marketing budgets at favorites, and you can tell which ones they have chosen just by watching the promos on their air. But to get sampled, a pilot also needs good word-of-mouth buzz, much of which can come early on from critical acclaim. With that in mind, B&C asked a panel of critics which pilots soared and which crashed, how the new slate stacks up versus last year's, and which network has the best rookie class.

Best Pilot

There may be questions about whether it can hold up as a series or even match the high quality of its pilot (for more with creator Bryan Fuller, see “Take Five” on page &3>), but ABC's Pushing Daisies is undoubtedly the most talked-about pilot of the new season.

The high concept and great-looking drama has critics foaming at the mouth to heap praise on the story of a man who can bring people back to life with a single touch, and then send them back to the grave with one more.

The Denver Post's Joanne Ostrow calls it “inventive and eye-popping, the only pilot that promises something truly different.”

The San Jose Mercury News' Charlie McCollum calls it “an utterly charming, richly produced romantic fairy tale that is totally unlike anything else on television.”

Worst Pilot

ABC's comedy Cavemen may have been better left as the insurance company advertising campaign it came from, according to critics. While they are lining up to praise Pushing Daisies, the Los Angeles Daily News' David Kronke says critics will have equal passion for ripping Cavemen.

“Everyone will have their own bon mots eviscerating it,” he says.

And the Knoxville News Sentinel's Terry Morrow does exactly that, calling it “this generation's My Mother The Car, a comedy so unbelievably inane and void of dignity that you can almost see the actors cringe in embarrassment.”

Tom Jicha of the South Florida Sun-Sentinel also has a subtle take, saying the show “is a mess, which never should have been picked up and will be gone in fewer than three episodes.”

Are the pilots this year betteras a whole than last year?

While Pushing Daisies and a few others have some buzz going into the fall, by and large few pilots have really seemed to captivate the television industry's ether, or the critics.

USA Today's Robert Bianco (opens in new tab) calls this year's new slate “the worst season I've seen in a while,” and the Knoxville News Sentinel's Morrow says they are “the worst fall pilots, generally speaking, that I've seen in the past seven years.”

But as we were reminded last year with shows like ABC's The Nine, even a great pilot is far from a guarantee for a successful series.

The Sun-Sentinel's Jicha says this year's group is “not as good and it's not close. But many of the good ones last year bit the dust.”

And as the Philadelphia Daily News' Ellen Gray notes, “Fortunately, a TV season isn't limited to new shows.”

Which network has the bestslate of new pilots?

With a promising new slate that is also on target for the network's 18-34 target audience, the sophomore season of the CW could be the best yet.

As the Sacramento Bee's Rick Kushman notes, “Who would've guessed?”

But the bigger networks could be green with envy at the CW's freshman class headed by Reaper, Gossip Girland Aliens in America, which could be the desired companions to Everybody Hates Chris.

“All of them are not only dead-on in terms of target audience, but they're also very good or promising,” says McCollum of the San Jose Mercury News.

And with the CW also offering new alternative programming such as Online Nation and Farmer Wants a Wife, Entertainment Weekly's Ken Tucker says the network is “really making an effort to expand their audience with a wider range of genres and stars.”

A final thanks to the critics and TV writers who participated in the poll:

Rodi Alexander, Bergen (N.J.) News Group; Mark Allan, Nuvo (Indianapolis) Newsweekly; Michael Ausiello, TV Guide; Howard Benjamin, The Interview Factory;  Rick Bentley, The Fresno Bee; Robert Bianco, USA Today; David Bianculli, New York Daily News; Hal Boedeker, Orlando Sentinel; Alison Cunningham, TV Times (Vancouver, B.C.); Mark Dawidziak, Cleveland Plain Dealer; Janet Di Lauro, Soap Opera Weekly; John Doyle, The Globe & Mail (Toronto); Michael Elkin, The Jewish Exponent; Glenn Garvin, Miami Herald; Matthew Gilbert, Boston Globe; Ellen Gray, Philadelphia Daily News; John Griffiths, Us Weekly; Hercules the Strong, Ain’t It Cool News; Jeff Hidek, Wilmington Star-News; Tom Jicha, South Florida Sun-Sentinel; Neal Justin, Minneapolis Star Tribune; Joel Keller, TV Squad; Rick Kushman, The Sacramento Bee; David Kronke, The Los Angeles Daily News; Ed Martin, The Myers Report; Dave Mason, Ventura County Star; Charlie McCollum, The San Jose Mercury News; Mike McDaniel, The Houston Chronicle; Melanie McFarland, Seattle Post-Intelligencer; Bruce Miller, The Sioux City Journal; Terry Morrow, Knoxville News Sentinel; Kate O’Hare, Tribune Media Services; Joanne Ostrow, The Denver Post; Rob Owen, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette; Gail Pennington, St. Louis Post-Dispatch; Matt Roush, TV Guide; Maureen Ryan, The Chicago Tribune; Alan Sepinwall, The Star-Ledger (New Jersey); Ken Tucker, Entertainment Weekly; Dave Walker, New Orleans Times-Picayune; Mark Washburn, The Charlotte Observer; Diane Werts, Newsday