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Will This Pilot Season Finally Bring a Long-Awaited Next Act for CBS?

Its ratings in freefall, it’s due or die time for the one-time Tiffany Network.
  • Among the shows vying for a spot on the network's 2020-21 schedule is a re-imagining of The Equalizer, with Queen Latifah in the lead role.
    Among the shows vying for a spot on the network's 2020-21 schedule is a re-imagining of The Equalizer, with Queen Latifah in the lead role.

    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: CBS. 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.

    The departure of longtime President Les Moonves two years ago may have changed things internally at CBS, but from the outside, things would seem to be business as usual. To be fair, last year's pickups saw a somewhat greater emphasis on diversity, with several shows centered around women and people of color, but none have been breakout hits, and the rest of the schedule continues to be dominated by the NCIS franchise and a seemingly endless parade of action-packed reboots (Magnum, Hawaii 5-0, MacGyver). 

    With longtime ratings magnet The Big Bang Theory gone, the network has slipped into last place in the all-important 18-49 demo, and for the first time in nearly two decades, NBC is topping CBS in total viewers. 

    This is a network in desperate need of fresh blood -- something to break the cycle, whether it be new voices or bigger bets. Will their 2020 development slate be enough to make the difference? Here's what they've got cooking this development season:


    Dropping the audience directly into the interrogation room alongside homicide detectives, this investigative drama challenges viewers to discern fact from fiction and ferret out the suspects' lies in a race to solve each episode's crime before time runs out. 

    => From mega producer Jerry Bruckheimer, this is a “go big or go home” project that could go either way. Based on a New Zealand series of the same name, the original show revolved around the killing of a teenage girl, with each episode seen from the perspective of a different suspect in the case. It was up to the viewer to piece together the story and decide what happened to the victim, and who did it.

    Set a year after the events of The Silence of the Lambs, Clarice is a deep dive into the untold personal story of Clarice Starling as she returns to the field to pursue serial murderers and sexual predators, while navigating the high stakes political world of Washington, D.C.

    => This project has been kicked around for years and for better or for worse, it seems like it’s finally happening. Written and executive produced by Alex Kurtzman and Jenny Lumet, it has already received a series commitment, although the network has an out if the pilot isn’t up to snuff. It could be the role of a lifetime for the actress who gets the part. Whether it's good or not, this one is sure to get a lot of attention.

    A medical drama revolving around the members of the Center for Disease Control's Rapid Response Team, the "special forces" of the CDC, who fly into our nation's hot zones, working feverishly to diagnose and eradicate the greatest threats to the future of humankind.

    => Described as "an intense, high-stakes medical investigation drama," this could potentially be another "9-1-1" if they do it well. Drop Dead Diva creator Josh Berman is executive producer.

    After the disappearance of her wife on a scuba trip, a renowned and fearless oceanographer forms an unorthodox but highly skilled team of specialists who take on the unique challenge of solving crimes committed at sea where evidence and clues are as fickle as the tides, devoting themselves to bringing closure to victims who rarely get it. 

    => Produced by Craig Turk (The Code, The Good Wife) and Dan Lin (Lethal Weapon), at the very least this one provides a unique setting for a procedural.  

    The brilliant but directionless great grandson of Albert Einstein spends his days as a comfortably tenured professor, until his bad boy antics land him in trouble with the law and he's pressed into service helping a local police detective solve her most puzzling cases.

    => This domestic take on a successful German series comes from Monk creator/executive producer Andy Breckman. A first stab was set up at NBC last development season with a different creative team, but it didn't make it. 

    A reimagining of the classic series about an enigmatic figure who uses her extensive skills to help those with nowhere else to turn. 

    => Queen Latifah is attached to star. Written by Take Two creators Andrew Marlowe & Terri Miller, word is this Equalizer would be closer to the film franchise starring Denzel Washington than the 1980s CBS hit series. 

    The young, idealistic new mayor of Chicago finds that winning the election was a cakewalk compared to the challenges of running one of the most politically fraught cities in the world, while balancing her own tangled personal life and navigating an old rivalry with a powerful family.

    => With the end of Madam Secretary, CBS is in need of a prestige political for its once brilliant Sunday night programming. This project could fit the bill. 

    The International (CBS TELEVISION STUDIOS)
    Part negotiator, part international spy, Anders Soto is a one-man covert black-ops team working for the U.N. who’s called in to find asymmetrical solutions to the world's most delicate and complex problems. 

    => This project starring Dolph Lundgren and directed and produced by Sylvester Stallone appears to be in the vein of The Expendables movie franchise. Unless it blows up, seems  like a sure thing for CBS. 

    The Lincoln Lawyer (CBS TELEVISION STUDIOS)
    In this small screen take on Michael Connelly's series of bestselling novels, an iconoclastic idealist runs his law practice out of the back of his Lincoln Town Car, taking on cases big and small across the city of Los Angeles. 

    => David E. Kelley's return to broadcast television and the legal genre after Big Little Lies and Mr Mercedes, this one already has a pilot production commitment. Apparently it’s a passion project for Kelley, who loved the book and the movie, and wrote a spec scrip a year ago, which was set up at Epix. CBS would be foolish to not give it a chance.

    Upon learning that his impending retirement is being pushed off by several years, an apathetic NYPD detective who just wants his pension so he can go off and live the good life decides to do everything in his power to get fired, but his bad behavior only leads to surprising success at solving cases. 

    => Another Jerry Bruckheimer project, a comedic procedural on CBS could be just what the doctor ordered. It's penned by 24 veteran Evan Katz. Casting the lead will be crucial. 

    When a small town's hospital is forced to close, an idealistic young doctor leads a determined group of locals who turn a diner-turned-veterinarian clinic into a medical practice to deliver much-needed care to their community

    =>  Small towns are back in business with shows like Hallmark’s When Calls the Heart and Netflix's copycat Virgin River doing big numbers. This project could turn out like one of those. It's from Instinct creator Michael Rauch. 

    When an unflappable ex-Marine lands the job of head of security for JFK International Airport, she discovers that protecting what’s widely considered the biggest soft target in the world will be the most challenging mission of her life.

    => 15 years after NBC’s one-and-done Heather Locklear-starrer LAX, another airport drama may finally be on its way. The Terminal is based on a short story by bestselling author Lee Child (Jack Reacher) and has nothing to do with the 2004 movie of the same name directed by Steven Spielberg. 

    An elite unit of investigators within the U.S. National Park Service work to solve the highest-profile cases in Yosemite National Park, a location known for its rare beauty and extraordinary danger.

    => The success of Kevin Costner's Yellowstone on Paramount Network would seem to be impetus behind this idea for a police procedural, but an outdoor action-packed crime drama isn't be the worst thing that could happen to CBS.

    Untitled Craft & Fain Project (CBS TELEVISION STUDIOS) 
    After a neighbor mysteriously disappears from their tranquil Florida community, four women who are fed up with feeling unseen band together to find her by turning their "invisibility" into a superpower to gain access and uncover clues where others can't, discovering that they have an uncanny knack for crime solving.

    => It’s surprising how few amateur detectives are on TV right now, as they seem a lot more relatable than cops in Hawaii or special agents in the NAVY. There may just be a place on network television for a show like this, especially on CBS. 


    CBS is still very much in the business of multi-camera comedies with most of their development slate devoted to the format. Among workplace comedies, there’s multicam CDC (CBS TELEVISION STUDIOS), about a group of socially awkward scientists and their ambitious new co-worker who struggles to find a balance between her career aspirations and loyalty to her unlikely new friends. This production from Jerry Bruckheimer would clearly very much like to become the next Big Bang Theory. Meanwhile, the single-cam Unprofessionals (LIONSGATE TELEVISION) is billed as a behind the scenes look at a group of the least important people working at one of the world's most important places: The United Nations. It's executive produced by Seth Rogen. 

    Already ordered to series from CBS star producer Chuck Lorre is the friends comedy The United States of Al (WARNER BROS. TELEVISION) about the friendship between Riley, a Marine combat veteran struggling to readjust to civilian life in Ohio, and Awalmir, the Afghan interpreter who served with his unit and has just arrived to start a new life in America. Also in development is the Untitled Mark Gross Project (CBS TELEVISION STUDIOS), a multi-cam about three strangers in their mid-20s who end up sharing an apartment in NYC while they pursue their dreams. 

    Fun (WARNER BROS. TELEVISION) is a multi-cam about a brother and a sister duo (played by Ugly Betty duo Becki Newton & Michael Urie) who always encourage each other to have fun, no matter what hardship their lives are currently serving up. Oh, and their family business is running a funeral home. Another family comedy is Who Gets Dad? (CBS TELEVISION STUDIOS), about adult siblings who reconnect when they are forced to share custody of their aging father. 

    Pretty (WARNER BROS. TELEVISION) is about a ballsy, passionate woman who moves from New Jersey to L.A. to pursue her dreams of finding love and becoming the next Oprah. The show is produced by Kaley Cuoco. And We The Jury (CBS TELEVISION STUDIOS) is a single-cam about a group of jurors are sequestered together until they all agree on a verdict, but they can't even agree on lunch. 

    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: The Equalizer (2021 series), Clarice, Einstein, The International, The Lincoln Lawyer, The Trail, United States of Al, Alex Kurtzman, Becki Newton, Craig Turk, Dan Lin, Jenny Lumet, Josh Berman, Kaley Cuoco, Les Moonves, Michael Urie, In Development, Pilots