TV Surf Report: Pilot Trends & What’s Getting Made

Santa Monica, CA — (Updated 07 May 2016)

True Crime. Super Heroes. Adaptations. Re-boots. Pre-Sold Titles. Actor-produced comedies and dramas. These are the Trends of what’s getting made this Pilot Season.



Hollywood loves to out-gross itself.  Exhibit A:  The People Vs. O.J. Simpson on FX garnered a stellar cast, rave reviews, and great ratings, so of course, other networks started scrambling for its True Crime narrative.  Sadly, for the audience, they found them.

NBC plans to use its Law & Order franchise to remind us of the horrible Menendez Brothers murder case. (Two Bev Hills sons of privilege murdered their parents.)  The Peacock also explores The Von Bulow Affair, the murder trial of British socialite Claus Von Bulow and wife Sonny.

Not to be outdone, CBS will dramatize the Jon Benet Ramsay case, wherein, a child beauty pageant queen is murdered, and her parents and brother are the suspects.

ABC has low-rated American Crime, awaiting its renewal for Season 3.

A&E will explore the LA Riots.  Fox will explore Racism in Shots Fired, an event series starring Sanaa Lathan, Helen Hunt, Richard Dreyfuss, and Stephen Moyer.

TNT pilots Robbers, a crime drama (and adaptation!) about a Texas couple on a crime spree while chased across the state by a cop.

Meanwhile, the podcast SERIAL continues to outperform all comers with its second season exploring the Beau Bergdahl case of a Marine gone AWOL.


SUPER HEROES. The Trend Continues…

ABC continues to mine Marvel for all its worth.  Mockingbird, aka, Marvel’s Most Wanted, is the latest Agents of SHIELD spin-off.  Damage Control is also in the pilot mix.

Meanwhile, Freeform just ordered Cloak & Dagger straight to series. This Marvel property is perfect for Freeform’s YA audience known as Becomers.

NBC has Powerless on tap. It’s a workplace comedy set in an insurance agency of normal people who live in the DC Universe. The Xena re-boot is still in the script stage.

FX has Legion starring Dan Stevens (Downton Abbey) as the telepathic son of Charles Xavier.

Netflix has ordered The Punisher starring Jon Bernthal in addition to both Luke Cage (premiering in September and starring Mike Colter) and Iron Fist (now in production and starring Finn Jones) coming up.  The Defenders, which unites Daredevil and Jessica Jones as well, shoots later this year.

Hulu pilots Future Man, a half-hour about a janitor by day/gamer by night who saves Humanity.  Seth Rogen (Preacher) exec produces.

Krypton at SyFy is a prequel series about Superman’s grandfather and his fight to bring equality to the planet (talk about an uphill battle!). David Goyer exec produces for DC Comics.


ADAPTATIONS. Books. Foreign Series. Hit songs. Newspaper Stories. Plays.

CBS adapts and re-boots Nancy Drew as a NYPD in her 30s and played by Sarah Shahi, a non-white actor. Diversity.  Also at CBS is a US re-make of Aussie comedy Upper Middle Bogan, a flamboyant but loving family of dragsters. Tracy Letts’ play, Superior Donuts, gets a pilot, too.

Fox pilots Zoobiquity, a light-hearted medical drama, starring Ben Rappaport.

A.P.B. at Fox is an adaptation of a NY Times story, “Who Runs the Streets of New Orleans?”  Len Wiseman (Underworld) exec produces.

Cat’s Cradle, the Kurt Vonnegut novel, becomes a Limited Series for FX.

Sharp Objects at HBO is an adaptation of Gillian Flynn’s novel about a reporter fresh out of a psych ward.  Amy Adams stars in the 8-episode series.

Big Little Lies at HBO is an adaptation of Liane Moriarty’s novel about three mothers whose perfect lives unravel.  Reese Witherspoon exec produces the David E. Kelley limited series.

Chance at Hulu stars Hugh Laurie as a forensic neuropsychiatrist adapted from the novel by Kem Nunn.

The Handmaid’s Tale at Hulu is an adaptation of the Margaret Atwood novel starring Elizabeth Moss.

Jolene, the Dolly Parton hit song, gets its own telefilm at NBC following the success of Coat of Many Colors.

Midnight, Texas at NBC is a drama adapted from Charlaine Harris’ books set in a fictional, creepy Texas town.

Collision at NBC is a re-make of the British drama about a group of strangers whose lives are changed after a roadside accident.

Maniac at Netflix is an adaptation of the Norwegian comedy.  Emma Stone and Jonah Hill star in the 10-episode order.

Mindhunter at Netflix has a series order for this David Fincher directed adaptation story of a detective tracking down serial killers.  Charlize Theron exec produces.

Girl Boss at Netflix is an adaptation of Sophia Amoruso’s popular autobiography about her days dumpster diving before creating a hipster clothing line. Kay Cannon scripts and produces with Charlize Theron.

I’m Dying Up Here at Showtime is an adaptation of the William Knoedelseder book about the LA standup comedy scene in the ’70s.  Jim Carrey exec produces.

The Alienist at TNT has an 8-episode order for the Caleb Carr psychological thriller set in the Gilded Age of New York. Garrett Hedlund stars for director Cary Fukunaga (True Detective).

Eye Witness at USA has a 10-episode order for the US version of the Norwegian crime thriller, Oyevitne.  Julianne Nicholson and Gil Bellows star.


RE-BOOTS. Old Chestnuts. Audiences love ’em. (The X-Files)

Lucas Till stars in CBS’ re-boot of MacGyver. James Wan (Fast & Furious 7) directs.

Prison Break at Fox gets the Limited Series treatment with 10 episodes.  Series stars Wentworth Miller and Dominic Purcell reprise their roles.

24: Legacy at Fox stars Corey Hawkins and Jimmy Smits as a younger agent paired with an older partner.

Twin Peaks is in production, adding stars by the day, which bodes well for Showtime’s big investment in David Lynch’s iconic series which won’t premiere until 2017.

One Day At A Time at Netflix has a 13-episode order and a Latin remix.  Justina Machado steps in for Bonnie Franklin.

Gilmore Girls at Netflix returns us to Stars Hollow for four 90-minute movies scripted by series creator Amy Sherman-Palladino.  Lauren Graham and Alexis Bledel reprise their roles along with most of the supporting cast including Melissa McCarthy.

Lost in Space has a series order from Netflix.  Legendary TV produces. Danger, Will Robinson!

Amazon re-boots The Tick, the Ben Edlund comedy that aired on Fox.  Peter Serafinowicz (Spy) stars.


PRE-SOLD TITLES.  Movies we recall fondly.  Minority Report and Rush Hour bombed but Limitless was okay.  Hey, it’s a vertical integration strategy that studios and networks gotta try in this age of marketing to the masses.  Blame M*A*S*H and Buffy the Vampire Slayer for being such successful movies-turned-series.

Training Day at CBS.  Bill Paxton and Julie Benz star in the small-screen version of the Jerry Bruckheimer drama again directed by Antoine Fuqua.

Lethal Weapon at Fox.  Damon Wayans stars.

The Exorcist at Fox stars Geena Davis in a psycho-thriller about, you guessed it, demonic possession.

Rocky Horror Picture Show at Fox is a 2-hour Event starring Laverne Cox, Adam Lambert, and original cast member Tim Curry.

Taken at NBC is a prequel to the Luc Besson films starring Liam Neeson (who does not reprise).

Cruel Intentions at NBC follows the next generation of Dangerous Liaisons.  Sarah Michelle Gellar reprises her role from the 1999 Roger Kumble film. Peter Gallagher also stars.

First Wives Club at TV Land.  The revenge comedy gets a pilot order.

Shooter at USA stars Ryan Phillippe in the Mark Wahlberg role as an off-the-grid Marine sniper.  This is both re-make and an adaptation of Stephen Hunter’s novel, Point of Impact.


Up Next: More on Pilot Season (Original Concepts Get Made!)







About Surfing Hollywood

Steve La Rue is an internationally recognized leader in Film & Television with 20+ years experience as a Development Executive championing such series as Buffy The Vampire Slayer, The X-Files, The Simpsons, King of the Hill, Battlestar Galactica, and Farscape. He writes, blogs, and consults on All Things Entertainment from his home at the beach in Santa Monica, CA, where he balances his life by surfing every damn day.
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