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For Scripted Pilots,Everything New Is Old Again

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In the world of television, imitation is the sincerest form of development, so it is no surprise that many of the pilots in contention at the broadcast networks for the 2012-13 season bear resemblance to already-successful series.

And in a year where many of the networks have had breakout firstyear hits, there is the strong possibility that several of next season’s new apples won’t fall far from the sophomore tree. Though for all the “[Insert-successful-genre-here] is back” stories you read last fall, one season does not make a long-term trend.

“Sometimes the attempt at recreating success is successful, but more often than not it’s just a pale imitation of what has been successful,” says Bill Carroll, VP/director of programming at Katz Television Group.

Copying burgeoning formats always risks oversaturation, though that’s never stopped TV executives before. But if several of the following pilots should be picked up to series and a few see success next season, be prepared to read a lot more about their genre’s ascendency—and naturally, many more similar series in development.

Premise: Dramas with fairy tale characters and/or supernatural elements

Freshman successes: ABC’s Once Upon a Time, NBC’s Grimm

Pilot contenders: A year after two fairy tale-themed dramas were touted at the upfronts, two identically titled fairy tale pilots have shown up in development at ABC and The CW, with both having versions of Beauty & the Beast (ABC’s is a reimagining of the classic tale, while The CW’s is based on the 1980s CBS cult hit). ABC, which had a breakout hit this season with Once Upon a Time, is doubling down on the genre in its drama development, with the supernaturally-themed 666 Park Avenue, about the paranormal happenings at a New York apartment house, and the Grimm sounding Gotham, which centers on a female law enforcement officer who finds a magical world in New York unseen by regular people.

Femme-led friendship comedies

Freshman successes: CBS’ 2 Broke Girls, Fox’s New Girl

Pilot contenders: After Zooey Deschanel, Kat Dennings and Beth Behrs proved breakout stars last fall, TV declared the resurgence of female-led comedies, and agents started tripping over themselves to pitch the next adorkable leading lady. The result is a fair share of femme-fronted comedies, including an untitled Mindy Kaling (The Office) project originally developed for NBC but ultimately picked up by Fox, partially because it was seen as a perfect companion to New Girl. CBS has a potential companion to 2 Broke Girls in Super Fun Night, about a trio of female friends who make a point of going on a “funcomfortable” pursuit every Friday night. And though series based on female comics Whitney Cummings and Chelsea Handler haven’t proven the hits NBC needs, the Peacock is trying again with the Sarah Silverman-starrer Sarah 313.

Premise: Soap-opera drama with shades of high-society voyeurism

Freshman successes: ABC’s Revenge

Pilot contenders: Soaps may be dead on daytime, but they’re the buzz of primetime development, thanks to the Hamptonsset guilty pleasure Revenge. That series’ heir apparent would seem to be the NBC pilot Notorious, about a female detective who returns to the wealthy family she grew up in and goes undercover —as the maid’s daughter—to try to solve the murder of an heiress who was once her closest friend. ABC also has several sudsy pilots, including one with class-divide tinges—Marc Cherry’s Devious Maids, about four ambitious maids who service the rich and famous of Beverly Hills—as well as Americana, following the owner of a garment manufacturing business and his family, and the young designer that turns the company upside down. ABC also has Scruples, based on the 1978 Judith Krantz novel about a widowed socialite who opens a Beverly Hills fashion boutique. For Smash fans who prefer their drama set to a soundtrack, ABC also has the soapy Nashville about a country star at her peak and an up-and-coming musician.

Vehicle for a big-time ‘90s sitcom star

Freshman successes: ABC’s Last Man Standing

Pilot contenders:
Last Man Standing was voted this season’s inevitable hit in B&C’s annual pre-season critics poll—a series with disappointing execution but assured success by Tim Allen’s name recognition and Home Improvement pedigree. Paul Lee has followed up on the formula with Reba McEntire in a fish-out-of-water role in Malibu Country, while NBC is hoping lightning can strike twice with Roseanne stars Roseanne Barr and John Goodman reuniting in its Downwardly Mobile project. Plenty of other former sitcom stars are being featured in pilot roles, like Everybody Loves Raymond’s Doris Roberts (ABC’s Counter Culture), The King of Queens’ Leah Remini (ABC’s White Van Man), Dharma & Greg’s Jenna Elfman (NBC’s 1600 Penn), Friends’ Matthew Perry (NBC’s Go On) and Full House’s John Stamos (Fox’s Little Brother).