BIG TALK

ABC's "Second Cycle" 2020 Drama Pilots Revealed

FIRST ON PRIMETIMER: Before coronavirus, the network had planned a second wave of pilot pick-ups for this summer.
  • Primetimer's resident script-reader Jean-Maxime Renault has read the scripts for each of ABC's picked-up pilots this development season. Today he looks at the network's planned "second cycle" of pilots, the fates of which are unknown amid Hollywood's production shutdown.

    Before the coronavirus pandemic upended the 2020 pilot season, ABC's original plan was to pick-up pilots in two separate waves so that they could focus their attention on a smaller number of pilots at a time and veer away from the usual cuthroat competition for talent. Back in January, ABC Entertainment President Karey Burke and EVP Development and Content Strategy Simran Sethi explained they were ramping up their efforts to move their development process off-cycle, rebranding it as a "second cycle." The first wave would be the traditional January-May cycle, which the network filled with orders for The Brides, Rebel, Thirtysomething(else), Harlem's Kitchen, Wreckage and straight-to-series The Big Sky; while the second wave was to start production in the summer, after the upfronts and the screenings. In the end, ABC would have ordered 10 pilots, more or less the same number as the previous years.

    By the end of February, the network handed its first second-cycle pilot order to medical drama Triage and four other orders should have followed in the weeks after. As of this writing, we don't know what will happen with them, nor do we know what the future holds for the first cycle of pilots ordered, but never shot. Switching to straight-to-series orders for the luckiest ones, with Rebel as the frontrunner (read my pilot script review) may be the next step. ABC may decide to roll the second cycle to next season or just move on them without them. In any case, for the first time anywhere, here are the five shows that summer production cycle was set to include:

    Triage started as a spec script written by David Cornue years ago. During the 2018-19 development season, it was used as source material for a new script written by Grey’s Anatomy‘s Zoanne Clack for FOX. That version did not move forward, but the drama team at 20th Century FOX Television believed in Cornue’s vision and kept working with him on a third script. The studio took it out as a spec in January to ABC where it was well-received. Erica Messer, who is under an overal deal with ABC Studios, became available having wrapped production on the final season of Criminal Minds. She sparked to Triage and was chosen to become the pilot's showrunner. Triage is an ambitious high-concept character-driven medical drama following a pioneering surgeon, Finley Briar, over three distinct decades at the same hospital. With the evolution of medicine as the backdrop, the show explores the interconnected careers, friendships and romances of Finley and her colleagues and their tenuous relationship with time.

    Eligible, from ABC Signature Studios & Genre Arts, is written by Julia Brownell (This Is Us, The Path, Parenthood) and executive produced by Carlton Cuse alongside his producing partner Lindsey Springer (Locke & Key, Jack Ryan, Colony). The project, originally developed by I. Marlene King (Pretty Little Liars) in 2017, is a modern retelling of Pride and Prejudice, based on Curtis Sittenfeld’s book Eligible. The soapy drama tells the story of the five Bennett sisters and their complex journeys to finding love in its many traditional and non-traditional incarnations. When Liz Bennett is compelled to return home, she finds herself not only thrust back into the humorous lives and unearthed secrets of her large family but also — against her better judgment — falling for the handsome and mysterious Darcy, a man who could prove to be either her salvation or undoings.

    Found, from Warner Bros. Television in association with ABC Studios, is written by Nkechi Okoro Carroll (All American, Rosewood, The Resident) and produced by Greg Berlanti & Sarah Schechter, the same team behind The Brides (read my pilot script review). A missing person procedural drama that's described as Scandal meets Without A Trace, Found centers around the premise that in any given year, over 600,000 people are reported missing in the U.S., and over half that number are people of color that the country seems to forget about. In Found, Gabi Mosely, a Public Relations Specialist, who was once herself one of those forgotten ones, and her crisis management team work make sure there is always someone looking out for the forgotten missing people. But unbeknownst to anyone, this everyday hero has a chilling secret of her own, hidden in her basement.

    Exodus, from Sony Pictures Television, ABC Studios & Middkid Productions, is the most ambitious project in the pack. Written by Charley Dane (Perception, Legend of the Seeker) and Michael Jones-Morales (S.W.A.T., The Punisher, Containment, Into the Badlands), the project is executive produced by Shawn Ryan (Last Resort, The Shield, Timeless). A disaster/survival/family drama where erupting volcanoes in the US force the population to flee south to Mexico to survive, Exodus is told from the point of view of families torn apart and US ambassador Amanda Knwoles, who's suddenly at the center of an international political crisis with the lives of millions at stake.

    Finally, Kilgarron from ITV Studios is the adaptation of the British crime drama Bancroft, which was ITV's biggest new show in 2017. Written by Kate Brooke (A Discovery of Witches, Mr Selfridge, The Ice Cream Girls) and produced by Simon Meyers, Kilgarron is a fast-paced contemporary psycholigical thriller and a ferocious female-driven tale focusing on the ultimate anti-heroine. Lieutenant Erin Kalgarron, a brilliant cop in her fifties who has given her life to the police force at a huge personal cost is confronted with the repercussions of her past actions as a cold case haunts her in ways she never expected. What will the cold-blooded and manipulative Kilgarron do next to protect those she loves and her secrets?

    Visit our ABC Development Board for more on the network's first cycle shows, including pilot script reviews for each of the picked-up drama pilots, or read a ranked list of the network's 2020 comedy pilots.

    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: ABC, Bancroft, Eligible, Exodus, Found, Kilgarron, Triage, Carlton Cuse, Charley Dane, David Cornue, Erica Messer, Greg Berlanti, I. Marlene King, Julia Brownell, Karey Burke, Kate Brooke, Lindsey Springer, Michael Jones-Morales, Nkechi Okoro Carroll, Sarah Schechter, Shawn Ryan, Simon Meyers, Simran Sethi, In Development