03/28/2012 06:38 pm ET Updated Jun 22, 2012

Fall TV 2012: The CW Grows Up

Every year, the five major broadcast networks (ABC, CBS, The CW, Fox and NBC) order pilots to be considered for the fall season. A pilot, as you may know, is the first episode of a TV series and the final step in a long development process from idea to screen.

From the 87 drama and comedy pilots ordered this year, a new crop of television shows will be selected -- and I read the scripts for each and every one of them. Over the course of this week, I'm walking you through the network's pilot slates, offering a bit of analysis on their present schedules and providing you with a rundown of the drama contenders. (Plus, a little bit of info about the comedies, too.) Of course, not all of these shows will find their way to your TV set -- in fact, most of them you may never hear of again.

[NOTE: The versions of the scripts that I am commenting on were not necessarily final drafts and therefore could have changed in both content or title between my having read them and production -- though, drastic changes are unlikely.]

Since its inception six years ago, The CW has been seen as the youth network. Not without reason: It was cobbled together from UPN and The WB, which held that mantle before it, and the vast majority of their programming has been focused on young people. This year alone, half of their shows either currently feature high school students or did when the show began. Since that can be a stumbling block when it comes to luring older viewers and the advertising dollars they bring with them, it seems as though The CW is looking to make a change for the 2012-2013 television season.

To that end, there is only one pilot this year that focuses on teenagers: "The Carrie Diaries," from producer Josh Schwartz ("Gossip Girl," "The OC"). A prequel to HBO's popular "Sex & The City," "Diaries" follows Carrie Bradshaw as she grapples with your average high school problems in the '80s: mooning over the popular guy, a close friend who's in the closet, that secret double life in New York City where people think you're way older and super fashionable. Y'know, the usual. The pickup makes sense for The CW, as it builds upon a preexisting TV brand, something they've tried before to lukewarm success with "90210" (and "Melrose Place," but they'd prefer no one mention that). Still, it's cute and fashion forward, easily fitting into the network's oeuvre -- but if The CW is looking to grow up, this is not be the direction for them to go.

"The Selection," however, may be just the ticket. This script, a brilliantly timed blend of "The Hunger Games" and "The Bachelor," centers on America Singer, an unwilling participant in a pageant-like competition to be the next Queen of a hierarchal post-apocalyptic United States. Based on a yet-to-be-released young adult novel series of the same name, it's a clear bullseye on the zeitgeist at present and should appeal to the network's core audience, while also luring in older viewers looking for stories like these. If this past weekend's box office is any indication, they are.

These older viewers are part of the game plan in picking up "First Cut," a ensemble medical soap in the same vein as "Grey's Anatomy." So much so that this almost feels like a reboot, starting back at first year resident status all over again. The characters here are slightly different, yet their problems could very easily belong to Izzie Stevens or George O'Malley -- but that's not necessarily a bad thing. There is clearly an appetite for programming like this and were it to get picked up to series (and be a success), a hit like this could help change the ghettoized perception of The CW as being just for teens.

Another pickup that seems to be spurred by this same reasoning is "Shelter," from "One Tree Hill" creator Mark Schwahn and produced by J.J. Abrams' Bad Robot ("Lost," "Fringe," "Person Of Interest"). Set at a distinguished old Maine inn, it follows the summer season's young workers as they try and keep the guests happy and sort out their own dramatic personal lives at the same time. With Schwahn at the helm, the network can expect more of what they got from "One Tree Hill," which, despite that show having run for nine seasons, may not be a good direction for The CW to continue in. After all, this is the same show that brought us a dog eating a heart intended for transplant without an iota of humor or irony.

But a potential series candidate that does have an awareness of how whimsical and out there it can be is the musical time-travel romantic dramedy (yes, you read that correctly) "Joey Dakota." An adaptation of an Israeli series, it's about a woman finds herself temporarily transported back in time where she meets and falls for a famous pop star (the titular Joey) who happened to have died under mysterious circumstances the night she was born. It was actually one of the most fun scripts I read this cycle and would certainly be a different kind of show for The CW. Given that they're trying to shake things up, this could be good move for them.

Last year, when trying to branch out and do something new (for them), The CW developed a female buddy cop drama called "Cooper & Stone." It was a shot at getting a new procedural on the air, but didn't work out (the script wasn't terribly remarkable). This year, that same attempt comes in the form of "Beauty & The Beast," a reboot of of the late '80s Linda Hamilton series, which centers around an NYPD detective who discovers a link between the case she's working and the murder of her mother years earlier: strands of hair (or fur?) that appear to be half animal/half human. This leads her to a mysterious man named Vincent, the subject of a military experiment that gave him the ability to Hulk out into some kind of werewolf thing when he needs to. It's better than "Cooper & Stone," for sure, but it still feels like it may be a little too muddled to be a real contender.

And it's not the only one. No other pilot has as much going on as "Cult." It's an overgrown mess of a show that isn't easy to explain: "So, there's a TV show called 'Cult' -- no, not this show, a different show, one in this show, but it's got the same name. Got it? Good. Anyways, this show inside a show with the same name is about a crazy cult leader and a cop on his trail, and people are obsessed with this show and maybe have formed an actual evil cult dedicated to it. And ANYONE could be a part of it, even the cops. So there's this journalist who starts investigating -- with the help of a 'Cult' set PA, natch -- because his brother disappeared and..." You get the idea. If The CW is looking for something to appeal to male viewers (which is the only explanation I can come up with) this is not it.

"Arrow" is. Produced by Greg Berlanti ("Brothers & Sisters," "Everwood") and co-written by Marc Guggenheim, with whom Berlanti wrote the screenplay for "The Green Lantern," it's a take on the Green Arrow, a Batman-style vigilante crime fighter. After being discovered on a deserted island, several years after he was shipwrecked (the only survivor of the crew, which included his father) Oliver Queen, a billionaire playboy, returns home a changed man with a taste for vengeance. Part ensemble soap and part action series, "Arrow" has something for everyone, especially -- true to CW form -- when it comes to eye candy. This will most certainly find a home on The CW's fall schedule.

Figuring out exactly how much space will be available for pickups is a tricky prospect with this network. Low ratings don't necessarily imply cancellation, making it difficult to discern exactly what will make the cut. "America's Next Top Model" has already been renewed, despite dismal ratings, and schedule stalwarts "90210," "Gossip Girl," "The Vampire Diaries" and "Supernatural" will see another season, while "Nikita's" ratings performance likely won't give do much to bring it back. Freshman series "Hart of Dixie" and "The Secret Circle" are toss ups, and "Ringer" feels bound for the TV graveyard, joining "One Tree Hill," which is currently airing its final season.

Based on the above, I expect that The CW will pick up three new series -- my predictions as to what can be found below.

  • "The Selection" -- Unless something goes horribly awry during production, this is a safe bet.
  • "Arrow" -- This is right in The CW's sweet spot, and it also doesn't hurt that it's being directed by David Nutter, who has directed 18 other pilots over the course of his career, only one of which was not picked up to series.
  • "First Cut" -- It makes sense that they would want to dip their toes into the procedural waters with this ensemble soap (yes, there are going to be cases of the week, but baby steps, people).
  • "Joey Dakota" -- Hitting the bulls-eyes of fun and romance for the network (and with the wonderful Amber Stevens in the lead) it seems like it'd be a lock. But the high concept and cost of making a musical TV show could wind up making the network think twice.

The CW has a diverse slate this year, which gives them plenty of options as they attempt to shepherd the network towards a broader, older fan base. If they pull it off, there's a good chance that they could very well graduate from high school and be headed in the right direction.

Up tomorrow: Fox takes a dark turn with spies, serial killers, and the mob.