BY BERT EHRMANN
It’s that time of year again - time for the television networks to begin production on next season’s slew of shows. If you’re unfamiliar with a television pilot - it’s essentially the first episode of a comedy or drama (or the made-up word “dramedy”) that introduces the characters, indicates what the tone of the show will be like, and demonstrates how the stories will unfold in a given show.
For example, in the pilot episode of Seinfeld audiences learn of the comedian Jerry Seinfeld, his friends George and Elaine, and the guy living across the hall, Kramer. In the pilot, Kramer is a shut-in who hasn’t left the building in over a decade unlike the Kramer character that was used in the show after the pilot. That’s also an important part of the television pilot process - things can change between it and the finished series. In fact, characters can be changed, parts recast, and whole storylines redirected after a pilot’s been shot.
That’s even if a network picks up a pilot. Every year several hundred pilot scripts are written and less than one hundred of them are filmed. After all this only 20-30 pilots that were shot are actually picked up and aired. The odds that a show will go from pilot script to your TV are abysmal.
For the 2004-2005 television season, there’s the usual smattering of cop and hospital shows as well as two shows set in Hawaii, a few based off of hit movies, and the return of the “people marooned on a desert island” in the Gilligan’s Island meets Survivor vein. Best of all there’s the return of the “cop in school” show akin to the 1980’s classic series 21 Jump Street. (Though I’m not sure that “classic” and 21 Jump Street have ever been associated with each other. Remember that theme song? “Jump! Down on Jump Street!” I’m trying to forget.) Plus an all new version of CBS’s CSI. One can only imagine the grand differences between the three shows sharing the same name.
The two shows set in Hawaii are Pearl City and Ohau. Pearl City follows a group of detectives on the island of Oahu and Oahu follows a group of employees at a luxury resort on “the big island.” Confused? Me too. Is it too much to ask that Magnum P.I. appear in one of these shows? I don’t need much, just a Ferrari in the background of one of the scenes with a bushy mustache Dodger baseball cap-wearing Magnum behind the driver’s seat.
A smattering of shows are to be based off of hit movies, however loosely. The first is Confidence. Somehow I doubt Dustin Hoffman will be reprising his role for the small screen version. There’s also Raintree about a girl who trains a racehorse in California. I’m not saying that this show is based off the movie Seabiscuit, but I somehow doubt that it would be made if that movie weren’t a hit. Finally it’s the small screen return of Charlie’s Angels. But which creative direction would this new series follow - the karate action hi-jinks of Drew Barrymore or the karate action hi-jinks of Farrah Fawcett? The world waits with baited breath.
In what is destined to be the hits of next fall are two shows with either cops posing as students or specifically out to arrest underage criminals. There’s Hollywood Division about a group of detectives infiltrating a school in the city of the same name. (When I was in school detectives would only infiltrate schools looking for illegal copies of Mad Magazine. Drugs weren’t even invented yet.) There’s also Youth Crime Unit which switches coasts taking place in New York about a group of detectives tasked to take down criminals 25 years old or younger. I’m sure Johnny Depp’s agent is looking into him reprising his role as Officer Tom Hanson in either of these two shows. Johnny isn’t doing much these days, is he?
Speaking of New York, that’s where the next CSI is taking place. Titled interestingly enough; CSI: New York, this new series will differ from the other two in that it takes place in New York rather than Las Vegas or Miami. Totally unique.
In a variation on the said Gilligan’s Island meets Survivor theme are two monosyllable shows Lost and Eden. Lost is from Alias creator J.J. Abrams following a group of people crashed on a Pacific island and forced to create a whole new society. Eden turns the plotline of Lost on its head in that this time it’s a summer study cruise ship which maroons students on an island forcing them to rebuild a society.
Looking at the high quality of shows that the networks are thinking of producing, I predict that the 200 4-2005 television season will be known as “the season that single handedly killed television.” Still, there are worse things that can be put on TV. Remember when ABC filled up night after night of Who Wants to be a Millionaire? Or the Teletubbies? I hate the Teletubbies.