AS SEEN ON: Fastforward to fall development season

by Allison Levy | 3/8/11 11:00pm

Since we've reached the point in the term where most Dartmouth students (myself included) don't have time to watch too much TV, I thought I'd devote this column to the most promising shows slated to hit the small screen in the fall.

In the months preceding the upfront presentations, where networks announce their primetime schedules for the next year, networks order pilots for their fall seasons. However, not all of these shows end up making the final lineup. This year, for instance, NBC has ordered 21 pilots at least three times the number of shows that will make it on air in the fall.

In the spirit of the fall development season, here are three of the shows that I'm looking forward to most.

1) "Smash," NBC. One of several "Glee"-inspired musical scripts ordered by multiple TV networks, "Smash" is the only one to make it to the pilot phase. Taking a more realistic approach than "Glee," the show follows Broadway talents through the process of producing a new musical about Marilyn Monroe.

The series has plenty of prestige to help it along. Steven Spielberg will serve as the executive producer, along with "Chicago" (2002) duo Craig Zadan and Neil Meron. Scott Wittman and Marc Shaiman, the men behind the music of the Broadway adaptation of "Hairspray," will also lend their talents to "Smash." The biggest question is whether the team's stage talents will translate to the small screen.

2) "Alcatraz," FOX. No development season is complete without at least one action-packed pilot from J.J. Abrams. I'm most looking forward to "Alcatraz," a mystery set on the legendary San Francisco penitentiary island. Starring Jorge Garcia as an Alcatraz expert, the show deals with some strange happenings on the island. I'm hoping this goes the way of "Fringe" rather than "Undercovers," NBC's short-lived Abrams pilot from last fall.

3) This one's a tie between ABC's "Poe" and NBC's "Brave New World." According to Entertainment Weekly, ABC's pilot about Edgar Allen Poe casts the mid-19th-century writer as a detective in 1840s Boston. Although Poe is considered one of the fathers of the modern detective story, the creators of "Poe" clearly aren't going for historical accuracy. Signed on to play the title character is the bright and shiny (not to mention handsome) Australian actor Christopher Egan, whose fresh face is a far cry from Poe's curmudgeonly visage. Still, the American literature nerd in me is excited to see if ABC can pull this one off.

"Brave New World," on the other hand, is capitalizing on my inner American history geek. According to Deadline, the series is a single-camera workplace comedy (think "Parks and Recreation," "The Office") set in Pilgrim Village, a fictional theme park specializing in reenactments of 1637 New England. You're probably a little skeptical about this one, but trust me nothing says comedy like Puritan New England.

In the end, there's nothing all that "new" about fall development season at the broadcast networks most of the pilots are more about recombining elements of past film and TV successes than about creating something truly novel. In an interview with Entertainment Weekly, for instance, ABC's development executive Suzanne Patmore-Gibbs compared "Poe" to both Guy Ritchie's "Sherlock Holmes" (2009) and ABC's current crime series "Castle."

But hey, development season is still more exciting than finals.