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CBS's 2020 Comedy Pilots, Ranked From Best to Worst

A post-Big Bang CBS is still in rebuilding mode as it mulls its 2020-21 comedy options.
  • Ugly Betty stars Michael Urie  and Becki Newton star in the CBS comedy pilot Fun. (Photo: ABC)
    Ugly Betty stars Michael Urie and Becki Newton star in the CBS comedy pilot Fun. (Photo: ABC)

    Our resident script reader Jean-Maxime Renault has read the scripts for each of the eight comedy pilots in contention at CBS this development season. So, which does he think are most likely to get ordered to series? Read on...

    The end of CBS's latest huge hit The Big Bang Theory left a gaping hole in the network's comedy slate and as expected, none of this past year's new shows were able to fill it. Worse, its once-promising spin-off Young Sheldon showed true colors as a good chunk of Big Bang fans didn't come back. So even the network's number one comedy is not exactly a juggernaut. Meanwhile, Mom, which is now the network's longest-running comedy, has seen precipitously lower numbers year-over-year.

    The sophomore season of The Neighborhood, paired with Chuck Lorre's new sitcom Bob <3 Abishola have made a solid pairing on Monday nights. Although neither can be considered a hit, they're doing what they can and any move in the schedule would possibly kill them. That leaves us with midseason utilty player Man With a Plan, and this year's three new sitcoms fighting against each other for one slot (maybe two if CBS is feeling generous). Carol's Second Act starring Patricia Heaton disappointed big time; The Unicorn starring Walton Goggins didn't make much noise; and the recently-introduced Broke starring homegrown star Pauley Perrette did better than expected, although its already less earth-shattering nummbers come at the same time that network ratings have seen an uptick generally, thanks to the coronavirus.

    As for the current development season (such as it is), for the first time in years, doesn't appear to be trying to find a new How I Met Your Mother, nor did it pick-up any romantic hybrid comedy pilots focused around a group of friends. As usual, most of this year's pilot pickups are multicamera comedies, mostly about family/siblings and/or odd-couples. Only three are fully owned, while three are from Warner Bros. Television (including two from Chuck Lorre).

    Here's my ranking: 

    1. FUN (Warner Bros. Television)

    A lifelong love story between a brother and sister who've always encouraged each other to have fun — no matter the hardships life may be serving up. Fun celebrates life — in spite of the fact that the family business is a funeral home. As they say in their family: “You can’t spell funeral without f-u-n.” The brother returns to his Pennsylvania hometown to help his sister run the struggling business after his emotional and devastating break-up with … show business.

    This comedy pilot is a dream come true for many Ugly Betty fans out there since it stars Becki Newton and Michael Urie who where inded that show's most fun characters, with a crazy chemistry. Happily, the script for Fun doesn't disappoint. You can tell it's been written for them, and you can tell they will have a ball filming it. Might it be too "gay" for CBS execs, and might the funeral home setting be a deal-breaker for the network's more conservative viewers? Perhaps, but on paper at least, this one's worth the risk.

    UPDATE (5/4/20): Mere hours after we posted this article, CBS announced it has rejected Fun.

    2. RAISED BY WOLVES (Universal Television)

    Frankie Wolfe is an unfiltered, irreverent, powerful businesswoman with no personal life. When Frankie’s impossibly fragile and neurotic sister Tommie abandons Quincy – an incredibly bright inner-city child whom Tommie attempted to foster – Frankie is faced with the choice of taking him in or casting him out. Can these two lonely, damaged people find the love and companionship that has eluded them their whole lives?

    Will & Grace creators David Kohan and Max Mutchnick are back with this project starring Julie Bowen, fresh out off 11 seasons in Modern Family. Her popularity is enough of a draw to make viewers at least curious, and a funny pilot script suggests they might stay, at least for a little bit. That being said, the show doesn't quiet seem to know what it wants to be. It starts as a workplace comedy and that part has all the qualities of Will & Grace in terms of jokes, pop culture references and pacing, but it's also an odd couple sitcom with a woman in charge of a child she didn't ask for. Both parts are funny and charming, but I fear the mix may be confusing and may put it more in the "why not?" position on CBS' list, rather than the no-brainer it should be.

    3. JURY DUTY (CBS Television Studios)

    A group of jurors are sequestered together until they all agree on a verdict… but this group can’t even agree on lunch.

    This single-camera comedy has a lot of potential and I can see why CBS picked it up to pilot. But I can also forsee why they probably won't order it to series (and if they do, it will probably end up as a midseason burn off). It's just not a fit with anyting else they have right now. Not only is it a single camera comedy, but it's hard to do more than 13 episodes with such a set-up. In that way, it feels more like an NBC comedy..

    4. B POSITIVE (Warner Bros. Television)

    Faced with finding a kidney donor, newly divorced dad Drew is at the end of his rope when he runs into Gina, a rough-around-the edges woman from his past who volunteers to donate her own. Together they form an unlikely bond and begin a journey that will change both of their lives.

    One of Chuck Lorre's two comedies in contention this year, B Positive also happens to be the network's only comedy pilot fully shot this season before the Coronavirus crisis shut down production. Even without a pilot, it's hard to imagine CBS passing on this one, for reasons that extend beyond it simply being a Chuck Lorre production. I found the pilot script very funny, and it boasts a great cast. Thomas Middleditch, Annaleigh Ashford, Kether Donohue and Sara Rue are not exactly household names but they're all very competent and recognizable comedic actors. The story in itself is like many other Lorre-produced comedies before and would fit anywhere in the schedule.

    5. GHOSTS (CBS Television Studios/Lionsgate Television)

    A young couple's dreams come true when they inherit a beautiful country house, only to find it’s both falling apart and inhabited by many of the deceased previous residents...

    This British import feels way too quirky for CBS and probably shouldn't have been seriously considered for the network in the first place. I know CBS All Access hasn't done a lot of comedy so far but that's probably where this one belongs. It's quite good, but the potential for anything more than 10 episodes per season is not evident. I'd love to be proven wrong, but let's be realistic: if it ends up on CBS, it will be cancelled after one season. So why bother?

    6. MOMS (CBS Television Studios)

    When Penelope’s career takes off at exactly the same time as her husband’s, they call on Penelope’s young single mom, Georgia, to help raise their son, but what they find is Georgia needs more raising than their kid.

    CBS won't keep this working title since they already have Mom, but that's also exactly why they shouldn't order it to series. It's way too similar to Mom. Sure, the mother and daughter characters are different, but the end result and many of their interactions are sort of the same. Only it's not as good. This one always had to be really special to warrant an order, and I'm sorry to say it's just not.

    7. THE UNITED STATES OF AL (Warner Bros. Television)

    About the friendship between Riley, a Marine combat veteran struggling to adjust back to civilian life in Ohio, and Awalmir aka Al, the interpreter who served with his unit in Afghanistan and has just arrived to start a new life in America.

    This is the second Chuck Lorre CBS comedy with an immigrant as a title character (after Bob <3 Abishola.), and while the Eye network hasn't rejected a single Lorre pilot since 2003, I think we may be finally heading there with The United States of Al. It had a production commitment and they probably had no other choice but to proceed with it but I'm pretty sure if this half-baked script had come from a lesser name it would have been dead on arrival. They've asembled a competent cast with Adhir Kalyan, Parker Young and Dean Norris, but otherwise we're in meh territory. Yes, it could be one of these Lorre shows that need a few episodes to work itself out, but they already have a better one in Positive B

    8. THE THREE OF US (CBS Television Studios)

     Adult siblings who are children of divorce must circle the wagons when their sister’s husband unexpectedly calls it quits on their marriage.

    While this one appears at the bottom of this list, I didn't hate it. There's just nothing particularly special about it. In short: been there, done that. Oliver Hudson and Malin Akerman may be good in their roles but I don't see viewers coming just for them. It would need to be better than it is to work. Pass.

    Jean-Maxime Renault is a TV addict based in Paris who writes about television and movies on AlloCiné (aka "the French IMDB"). In 2015 he created Season Zero, a website about television development and pilot season, which is now a part of Primetimer. Follow him on Twitter @SeasonZeroCom

    TOPICS: CBS, B Positive, Fun, Ghosts, Jury Duty, Please Hold for Frankie Wolfe, Raised by Wolves, The Three of Us, United States of Al, Chuck Lorre