BIG TALK

NBC Makes Big Bets on Ted Danson and The Rock as it Preps its 2020 Pilot Orders

The network hopes to revitalize its comedy brand with some familiar faces.
  • NBC has already ordered projects starring Ted Danson and Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson to series without even hitting the pilot stage.
    NBC has already ordered projects starring Ted Danson and Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson to series without even hitting the pilot stage.

    With the broadcast network development cycle back in full swing. Primetimer’s resident pilots expert Jean-Maxime Renault is firing up his coverage of pilot season this week with a look at some of the most exciting projects being developed at each of the broadcast networks. Today: NBC. Which of their projects will be ordered to pilot, and which of those will get a series order? Visit our pilots area daily for complete coverage.

    Among the five broadcast networks, NBC’s goals for the coming pilot season are the most opaque. We haven't heard much entertainment president Paul Telegdy, but the upcoming batch of pilots will be his first as solo president (Telegdy was originally appointed co-president with George Cheeks in September 2018).  Meanwhile, Universal is prepping its Peacock streaming platform with its own slate of originals that include the revivals of classic NBC properties Saved by the Bell and Punky Brewster

    While NBC has remained the network to beat in the demo this current season, each of its new fall entries have underperformed, with Bluff City Law, Perfect Harmony and Sunnyside each at different states of death. Still, midseason is packed with newbies like Zoey's Extraordinary Playlist, Council of Dads, Lincoln Rhyme and Indebted, one or more of which might break through. While comedy remains the “heart of the NBC brand,” as Cheeks put it at last May’s upfronts, at the moment they're sorely lacking hits in that department. With The Good Place and Will & Grace ending this season, that leaves Superstore as the only returning comedy that’s ever drawn much of a crowd for the network. On the drama side, they still can count on the Chicago franchise and Disney-owned This Is Us… and that’s about it. 

    The network does have a one big advantage over its competition going into the 2020-21 season: NBC will be home to the forthcoming Summer Olympics in Tokyo, which is always a great platform for introducing fall programming to a large audience.  With all that in mind, here's a look at the most interesting projects on NBC’s current development slate:

    DRAMAS

    The Bunker (UNIVERSAL TELEVISION)
    In this adaptation of the comic book series, a group of friends discover a hidden bunker in the woods containing proof that in the future they will be responsible for a global apocalypse. Now they must decide whether give up their hopes and dreams in hopes of saving the world, or follow their paths and doom us all.

    => NBC has a large number of high-concept dramas in the works this year, and The Bunker, which is produced by Julie Anne Robinson (The Catch, The Middle) is one of the most promising of the bunch. While network TV has a spotty history when it comes to high concept drama, the genre is thriving on cable and streaming, so perhaps this is the project that can break through for NBC.


    Debris (LEGENDARY TELEVISION)
    When wreckage from a destroyed alien spacecraft has mysterious effects on humankind, two agents from different continents with very different mindsets must work together to investigate.

    => Fringe and Almost Human writer J.H. Wyman is back with this sci-fi drama, which is being described as The X-Files meets Men in Black. The pitch is simple, efficient and well… familiar. But just as CBS's Evil manged to modernize a been-there done-that concept, maybe Debris can do the same. It has one of NBC’s most buzzed about early scripts, so there's that…


    Escape (UNIVERSAL TELEVISION) 
    Based on a Russian format, six complete strangers wake up on the roof of a building in San Francisco where they’re told they have 36 hours to live unless they can solve a series of deadly games set throughout the city. 


    Mavenhood (WARNER BROS. TELEVISION)
    When a mysterious person threatens to reveal the private secrets of a group of social media entrepreneurs, it could shatter the façade of perfection that is the very core of their enviable feeds and ruin the lives of those they love.

    => In the recent tradition of The Blacklist and Blindspot, NBC continues to bet on high-profile thrillers. Interesting and timely, Mavenhood is produced by Elizabeth Banks. 


    The Perfect Couple (FOX ENTERTAINMENT)
    Set on the island of Nantucket during the busy summer tourist season, a lavish wedding ends in disaster before it can even begin – with a body discovered in the harbor just hours before the ceremony. As Chief of Police Ed Kapenash digs into the bride, the groom, the groom’s famous mystery novelist mother, and even a member of his own family, the chief discovers that every wedding is a minefield – and no couple is perfect.

    => Based on Elin Hilderbrand’s bestselling novel, this mystery drama certainly appeals as a miniseries with a short run, but it's unlikely that’s what NBC has in mind for it. Time will tell.


    The Pioneer (20th CENTURY FOX TELEVISION)
    After their arrival on a new planet does not go according to plan, a mother and daughter are forced to overcome the emotional trauma of a tragic family death when they find themselves pivotal to the survival of their family and their colony. 

    => Created and produced by Matt Nix (Burn Notice and The Gifted), this futuristic sci-fi drama based on Bridget Tyler's book has echoes of This Is Us and the forthcoming Council Of Dads. If past is prologue, it may have a hard time finding an audience on broadcast, but it would be bold to try. 


    St. Elmo's Fire (SONY PICTURES TELEVISION)
    This modern adaptation of Joel Schumacher's 1985 film centers around group of close friends struggling with career, commitment and the responsibilities of adulthood.

    => Written by Drop Dead Diva creator Josh Berman, this coming-of-age drama based on a popular IP sounds more like the type of show ABC would develop (in fact, they did, a few years back) . That being said, the peacock could use something that would attract younger viewers and this one could potentially mesh well with This Is Us. 


    The Translater’s Daughter (UNIVERSAL TELEVISION)
    A college student interning for the CIA finds herself torn between loyalty to her country and the female crime boss who is protecting her and the young New York detective with whom she's fallen in love. 

    => Penned by husband-and-wife duo of Thomas Ian Griffith and Mary Page Keller, this project comes from former Grimm executive producers Sean Hayes and Todd Milliner. Could be a good successor to The Blacklist if the James Spader-starrer comes to an end this year (which has not been yet been announced yet). 


    Tribeca (WARNER BROS. TELEVISION)
    Set in New York's most expensive ZIP code, Tribeca explores the inner lives of a group of families. and the lengths they will go to ensure their children succeed, regardless of the cost. 

    => Based on"Sky Castle," the highest-rated Korean cable drama of all time,  Tribeca is billed as a sophisticated family drama, whatever that means. It's produced by Greg Berlanti and would seem to resonate with the university admissions scandal that rocked Hollywood last year. Could be a juicy soap with something to say about the elites. 


    Untitled Bill Krebs Project (UNIVERSAL TELEVISION)
    After her marriage is shattered by a random act of violence, a suburban middle-aged wife has a romantic encounter with a younger man, setting off a twisted chain of events that challenge everything she thought she knew about her perfect life and what really happened to her husband. 

    => This romantic drama with a thriller twist comes from producer Jenna Bans (Good Girls, Scandal, The Family) and looks to be what she does best. It's not exactly groundbreaking, but sounds intriguing enough to warrant a pilot order.


    Untitled David Slack Project (SONY PICTURES TELEVISION)
    An enigmatic billionaire has gathered more than 250 people who have attempted to cheat death by having their bodies frozen in hopes that a future breakthrough would someday allow them to be brought back to life, but as these people from different moments in time wake up, they come to realize you can't cheat death without paying a price. 

    => Drop Dead Diva creator Josh Berman is behind this project that Phillip Noyce (The Resident, Revenge) is set to direct and executive produce. A cryonics drama is certainly  new and different, bur does it belong on NBC? That remains to be seen. 


    The Vault (UNIVERSAL TELEVISION) 
    After a cataclysmic event seemingly wipes out the planet, the survival of humanity rests upon Annie, a geobiologist who has been setting up a state-of-the-art facility in the Arctic known as the Vault. 


    Wellesville (FOX ENTERTAINMENT / UNIVERSAL TELEVISION) 
    Inspired by the works of author H.G. Wells, this high concept drama centers on Ellie, a young scientist lured to a secluded island under the pretense of curing her terminally sick mother; while there she discovers there is more to this island and its inhabitants than it seems. 


    Wildfire (SONY PICTURES TELEVISION)
    When a devastating wildfire hits the idyllic community of Whispering Bells, Calif., some are spared, while others are not; the real danger, however, lies in the small town's secrets smoldering just below the surface.

    => The wildfire of the title is clearly a pretext to launch a soapy drama. What caused the fire will only be one of the many mysteries, it seems. Sounds a lot like early 2000s-era Desperate Housewives, but if the writing is smart and solid, it might just work.


    Zorro (CBS TELEVISION STUDIOS)
    A modern-day retelling of the Zorro mythology that follows Z, a female descendant of the warrior bloodline who will go to great lengths to protect the defenseless in her community.

    => What if Zorro was a woman? This project from Alfredo Barrios Jr. (Magnum PI) isn’t the worst idea for a reboot, but we don’t know enough about it yet to really judge. Where will it be set? What does this Zorro woman do for a living? Is she a cop? A lawyer? For now, we’ll give it the benefit of the doubt.
     

    COMEDIES

    NBC is mostly going single-camera this pilot season, possibly because they haven’t had much success in multicam of late, unless you count the first higher-rated season of the Will & Grace revival. Perhaps midseason multicam entry Indebted will change this equation, but I wouldn’t hold my breath. Among the single-camera projects on their development slate, Night School (UNIVERSAL TELEVISION) has already been ordered to pilot. Based on the 2018 movie, the project centers on a unique mix of adults at a night school GED prep class who unexpectedly bond over their shared experience and find themselves helping each other both inside and outside of the classroom. Community, anyone? Meanwhile, The Squad (WARNER BROS. TELEVISION) is about a new group of friends (and sometimes enemies) who find companionship and common ground in their mutual love and often isolating world of competitive eSports. It’s produced by Johnny Galekcki and clearly aims to be the next Big Bang TheoryLike Son, Like Father (UNIVERSAL TELEVISION) is about Nick, an out and proud gay man who finds himself assuming the role of his newly outed father's gay mentor and new roommate. Matt Hubbard (30 Rock, Parks and Recreation) is attached as producer. 

    Two shows have already been ordered to series without even hitting the pilot stage. One has been written for Ted Danson as his next act after the end of The Good Place. Untitled Ted Danson Project (UNIVERSAL TELEVISION) is about a wealthy businessman who runs for mayor of Los Angeles for all the wrong reasons. Once he wins, he has to figure out what he stands for, gain the respect of his staff, and connect with his teenage daughter, all while controlling the city’s coyote population. Holly Hunter will play the female lead in this series co-written and produced by Tina Fey. Also earning an early pickup is Young Rock (UNIVERSAL TELEVISION) from Fresh Off the Boat creator/executive producer Nahnatchka Khan, which has been given an 11-episode straight-to-series order. It chronicles Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson’s formative years, with him set to appear in each episode.  

    In addition to the aforementioned Like Son, Like Father, Fey's partner Matt Hubbard also has Bad Taste (UNIVERSAL TELEVISION) which is set in the intimate pressure cooker of a restaurant kitchen whose star chef is forced to make an uncomfortable alliance with the newbie female line cook in order to keep pursuing his passion. Several female-skewing projects are in the works, including Beach Watch (UNIVERSAL TELEVISION), focusing on an aspiring female police officer who flunks out of the police academy, joins the Beach Patrol and is partnered with the overbearing and brash Mel, who takes her job way too seriously.  From producer Gabrielle Union comes Black Girl Magic (SONY PICTURES TELEVISION) focusing on three estranged sisters who learn a mysterious secret about their family history that changes their lives and brings them back to the magical world of New Orleans. 

    Several family comedies, which haven’t been NBC's forte in recent years, are also in the works. The highest profile of the bunch is Forever Family (20th CENTURY FOX TELEVISION), from Jason Winer (Modern Family). The series centers on three different families who live miles away, but worlds apart, who come to discover that their adopted children all share the same birth father. Friends and workplace comedies remain in full force: Will Arnett is behind Friends & Family (UNIVERSAL TELEVISION), which is about a group of twentysomething friends in San Francisco who try to hold on to their carefree lives while facing the next phase of adulthood. Life at the Bottom (UNIVERSAL TELEVISION) is about an aimless New Yorker who follows a girl to Antarctica, only to get dumped and abandoned there. Post Office (UNIVERSAL TELEVISION) sees a young woman get a job working with her father and a group of oddball letter carriers. Private Dickersons (CBS TELEVISION STUDIOS) sees a bored couple who spends every night watching true-crime shows such as Dateline NBC and 48 Hours decide to take matters into their own hands and try solving local unsolved crimes. Finally, from producer Seth Meyers, there’s Untitled Brandon Scott Jones Project (UNIVERSAL TELEVISION), in which a struggling playwright is hired to help an oddball group of tech geniuses create the personality of a first-of-its-kind artificial intelligence, unexpectedly forcing them to explore what it means to be human.

    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: NBC, Untitled Ted Danson / Tina Fey Project, Young Rock, Dwayne Johnson, Ted Danson, In Development, Pilots