Upfronts 2024: Pilot Buzz & Other Development Updates In Another Atypical Broadcast Cycle

If you read the headline and are asking yourselves, pilots? what pilots? — you are not wrong. It’s been largely a 2024 pilot season without pilots. A grand total of maybe one of them is expected to factor into any fall decisions as the broadcast networks prepare to unveil their schedules, starting with CBS tomorrow, May 2.

Needless to say, the broadcast pilot season is no longer the industry obsession it once was this time of year, with back-to-back disruptions from the pandemic and the dual Hollywood strikes providing the proverbial final nail in the coffin of the decades-old pilot cycle. But for tradition’s sake, here are some insights into the networks’ current development plans.

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There is no more stacked lineup for next season than CBS’ with three new drama series, Young Gibbs prequel NCIS: Origins; Matlock, starring Kathy Bates; and Watson, headlined by Morris Chestnut; and two new comedies, Poppa’s House, with Damon Wayans and Damon Wayans Jr.; and Young Sheldon‘s Georgie & Maddie spinoff. Two of them, Matlock and Poppa’s House, were 2023-24 season transplants delayed by the strikes; the others are fresh orders.

With all five new series for 2024-25 locked in by end of January and in line with CBS new long-term development strategy of making series pickup decisions well in advance to allow for better planning longer marketing runway, the network for the first time this year did not order any pilots during the traditional window.

RELATED: 2024-25 CBS Pilots & Series Orders

With an eye toward the 2025-26 season, CBS Entertainment President Amy Reisenbach told Deadline in late January, “My goal is to open one to two more rooms by spring into summer at some point, it depends on if we have the right projects and we feel good about them. I’m not committing to that now, but hopefully we will be able to get another room or two up and running and targeted for more long-term as well as continuously doing more more normal development.”

That was before CBS’ scripted originals came back strong, with the network claiming 14 of the top 20 non-sports programs overall this midseason in Nielsen most current linear viewership. With no obvious underperformers, CBS had to make some painful decisions, cancelling NCIS: Hawai’i, CSI: Vegas and So Help Me Todd.

It is unclear how the strength of CBS’ existing scripted lineup, the ongoing cost management mandate and additional scrutiny from the uncertainty at CBS’ parent company Paramount Global — whose CEO Bob Bakish just exited amid sales negotiations — would impact the network’s development plans.

RELATED: 2024 Premiere Dates For New & Returning Series On Broadcast, Cable & Streaming

One project headed to a writers room is medical drama The Pact. Initially given a nod to open a writers room alongside Watson in January 2023, The Pact instead focused on reworking the original pilot script with Ayanna Floyd joining Marcus Dalzine. I hear the new script should be delivered soon, with a writers room potentially opening shortly thereafter.

A project that has a significant momentum is Sheriff Country (working title), the proposed Fire Country spinoff headlined by Morena Baccarin, which was introduced when Baccarin guest starred in an April episode of the firefighter drama. Like the series’ pilot, the episode was written by Joan Rater and Tony Phelan from a story the Grey’s Anatomy alums co-wrote with series’ star Max Thieriot whose real-life experiences inspired Fire Country. Thieriot also directed the planted spinoff episode, which I hear has been well received, boosting the project’s pickup chances. A backup script is currently being written, and negotiations are underway with a showrunner, I hear. UPDATE 5/2: Sheriff Country was picked up to series for 2025-26. I hear the decision came down quickly late last night/early this morning.

Fox continues to stay away from pilots under the development model it adopted during the pandemic., The network also continues to lean into its direct talent deals as it mulls its next round of straight-to-series orders.

According to sources, two of Fox’s hot prospects include Going Dutch, a single-camera comedy from Denis Leary, Jack Leary and Joel Church-Cooper, which is part of Leary’s development deal with the network. The other is State Patrol (working title), a drama from Burn Notice creator Matt Nix, which stems from his direct deal with Fox Entertainment.

Finding a companion to Fox’s only current live-action comedy series, Animal Control, is a major priority for the network. In addition to Going Dutch, other comedy projects that have been heating up include 10% Happier, written by Michael Lisbe and Nate Reger based on Dan Harris’ book and podcast and headlined by one of Fox’s top stars on the unscripted side, The Masked Singer and I Can See Your Voice‘s Ken Jeong, as well as Buffalo Tens, from Another Period creators Riki Lindhome and Natasha Leggero.

As part of Fox’s international content strategy, Fox in February ordered a presentation for multi-camera comedy Meet The Kumars, a followup to the award-winning 2001 BBC series The Kumars At No. 42. I hear the project remains in contention for a series pickup, possibly with some tweaks.

Also remaining on a development track with a solid shot at a series pickup are two other revisits of famous TV series, the Baywatch reboot, which I hear just turned in a script, and The Flintstones animated spinoff Bedrock, executive produced by and starring Elizabeth Banks, which received a presentation order a year ago.

Fox, which will be holding its upfront presentation May 13, has three new drama series already slated for next season. Two of them, the John Wells-produced Rescue HI-Surf and medical drama Doc, starring Molly Parker, had been delayed by the strikes. The network is so high on the former, it just ordered seven more episodes, bringing the lifeguard drama’s freshman season to 19 episodes. The third drama newcomer, Canadian co-production Murder in a Small Town, is part of Fox’s international content initiative.

NBC has three new series on tap for next season, medical drama Brilliant Minds (fka Dr. Wolf) starring Zachary Quinto and comedy St. Denis Medical with Wendi McLendon-Covey — both delayed by the strike — as well as high-concept crime procedural The Hunting Party, which was picked up in February. With Quantum Leap, La Brea and Magnum PI ending and Law & Order: Organized Crime moving to Peacock next season, there should be some shelf space available. (But then, it may be repurposed if NBC’s reported $2.5B bid for NBA games is successful.)

The network ordered two drama pilots this season, Suits: L.A. and Grosse Pointe Garden Society and comedy Happy’s Place starring Reba McEntire. Of the three, only the multi-camera sitcom is expected to be delivered in time for fall consideration as NBC presents its plans May 13.

RELATED: 2024-25 NBC Pilots & Series Orders

Aaron Korsh’s Suits: L.A. just wrapped production early this week and is not slated to have the finished pilot ready until June. Reaction to dailies has been positive, with The Walking Dead alum Josh McDermitt emerging as the show’s comedic breakout alongside star Stephen Amell whose performance also has been well received.

With a globally recognizable title thanks to Suits‘ recent Netflix success, the offshoot could conceivably be picked up a sooner as NBCUniversal is set to pitch its new series offerings to international buyers after the upfronts but most signs point to July decisions on the network’s two drama pilots.

Grosse Pointe Garden Society which, like The Hunting Party, originated as a writers room commission in February 2023, just finished casting and started production a couple of days ago, so it will take even longer than Suits: LA for NBC to see it.

According to sources, the table read went well. Additionally, NBC sibling Universal Television, which produces the project, remains bullish on its creators, Jenna Bans and Bill Krebs, and is in the process of re-upping both of their overall deals.

If NBC is happy with both Suits: L.A. and Grosse Pointe Garden Society, there is a chance for both to be picked up to series, I hear.

Happy’s Place, which reunites McEntire with producers of her eponymous 2001 sitcom and co-star Melissa Peterman, is described by sources as a solid and clever multi-camera effort that adheres to the traditions in the genre.

With NBC focusing largely on procedurals and multi-camera comedies, observers see Happy’s Place as a viable option, potentially paired with another multi-cam sitcom like Night Court, whose renewal is still pending as the network and producing studio Warner Bros. TV are haggling over episode count.

ABC, the last of the Big 4 to unveil its fall plans May 14, has two new series on deck for next season, Drew Goddard’s procedural High Potential, pushed by the strike, which is headlined by Kaitlin Olson; and Ryan Murphy’s medical drama Dr. Odyssey, starring Joshua Jackson and Don Johnson, which received a straight-to-series order earlier this spring. They will fill in the void left by ABC’s two departing drama series, The Good Doctor and Station 19.

The network ordered two pilots this season — both multi-camera comedies, Shifting Gears starring Tim Allen and Forgive & Forget headlined by Ty Burrell. I hear neither will film until June, so none will be considered for the fall schedule.

RELATED: 2024-25 ABC Pilots & Series Orders

Both Shifting Gears and Forgive & Forget fit into ABC’s push toward the more cost-effective multi-camera format and feature popular ABC comedy stars in Home Improvement and Last Man Standing‘s Allen and Modern Family‘s Burell so the network could conceivably pick up both to series if they both come in strong, according to sources.

ABC was so determined to get Allen back on the air, I hear it commissioned two scripts from different writers for the veteran comedian to choose from, with Shifting Gears ultimately getting the nod. Weeks before cameras are set to roll, the project received a boost from the casting of another proven sitcom performer, 2 Broke Girls’ Kat Dennings, as the co-lead opposite Allen.

Abbott Elementary is the only ABC comedy series renewed for next season so far. The network’s other two existing half-hours, veteran The Conners and sophomore Not Dead Yet, both found themselves on the bubble this year. As Deadline revealed exclusively last month, a Conners tag scene was shot to be used should the comedy be canceled and Season 6 finale become a series finale.

That may not be necessary; I hear renewal talks for The Conners are going well, and a shorter seventh and final season looks promising. Possibly as a precursor to what may be in store for fall, ABC is giving an Abbott-Conners comedy pairing a trial run starting this week when The Conners moves to the post-Abbott Elementary Wednesday 9:30 PM time period.

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