Pilot Season Guide

Pilot Season '16: Scoop on This Fall's (Possible) New Shows, Who's In Them

Pilot season is upon us, meaning the broadcast networks are taking stock of their needs for 2016-17 and getting the ball rolling toward filling any gaps. With things about to get really interesting — meaning it’s time to start booking actors for these wannabe hits! — TVLine presents its annual round-up of who’s planning what, and well as our guide to the lingo that gets tossed around.

Fun fact: Last year, less than half of the pilots on this grid got ordered to series, and six that did have already bitten the dust.

For easy access: Review the list of pilots for ABC, CBS, The CW, Fox and NBC, and we urge you to bookmark this constantly-updated page for the latest intel.

PILOT | When a network orders (or “picks up”) a pilot, they’re asking its writers/producers/studio to cast and produce a facsimile of what a series’ first episode will look like. Each pilot is reviewed by network brass, then typically put into testing before its fate is decided. (A “put pilot” has a greater guarantee of going to series, as there is a significant financial penalty if it does not.)

PLANTED SPIN-OFF | Also called a “backdoor” pilot, this is an episode of an existing series that sets up a prospective offshoot. For example, Chicago Fire took us inside a hospital in Season 3, and that was a planted pilot for Chicago Med. (Free History Lesson: That Brady Bunch episode with neighbor Ken Berry adopting three diverse orphans? That was an ill-fated planted pilot, for the spin-off Kelly’s Kids.)

DRAMA/COMEDY PRESENTATION | Due to time or budget restraints, a network sometimes won’t order a full pilot but a “presentation” of a not-quite-complete drama or sitcom.

CAST-CONTINGENT | Sometimes a network will order a pilot with the caveat that production can’t start until a suitable (read: “name”) actor has been cast in a lead role. (One translation: “The premise is iffy, but a big star could sell us.”) So you’ll sometimes hear that with the casting of so-and-so, “the cast contingency has been lifted” on a pilot. (The sorta flip-side is an “if-come deal,” meaning the major players are pre-signed and rarin’ to go the instant the network picks up the pilot.)

SECOND POSITION | AKA the two words that make fans of “bubble” shows nervous each spring, as stars from low-rated series start booking pilots (provided they get the OK from their current bosses). The term literally means that a pilot role is in second position/priority should their show get renewed. An actor booking a second position gig doesn’t always mean his/her current show is doomed… though it usually does. Variation: A “safe second” means the pilot’s bosses have been discreetly all-but-assured that the actor will be available.

UPFRONTS | The week in mid-May when the networks take turns unveiling their schedules for next season — including the pilots that have been ordered to series. With rare exception, if your show doesn’t make the cut here, it’s officially a goner.

And now, our running update of pilots ordered for the 2016-17 TV season, going network by network….


Comments are monitored, so don’t go off topic, don’t frakkin’ curse and don’t bore us with how much your coworker’s sister-in-law makes per hour. Talk smart about TV!

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  1. Bryan says:

    ABC picked up a lot of good pilots last year so these premises are kinda disappointing

  2. C says:

    Is that “Cruel Intentions” show NBC was developing still a thing?

  3. JosiahBartlet4President says:

    My two cents:
    The Jury sounds good, even if it is another courtroom drama.
    I’m a fan of Dule from TWW and Psych, so I’ll definitely check out Doubt.

  4. Jordan says:

    What about Damage Control at ABC. I thought it had received a put pilot commitment.

  5. Goldenvibefan says:

    No pilots for the cw yet? wowza! I really think a young justice or teen titans would be perfect for the network. Yes I’m aware they tried for young justice in 2013. It has both the teeny bopper stuff, and it has superheroes, the 2 main things of CW! Mostly biased cause I wanna see them on tv. ahah. Will check out Powerless and Most Wanted if they get picked up.

    • iHeart says:

      what about that Live Action Archie series that got a script order?

      • Yeah, I was wondering the same thing as well. I look forward to a modern day Riverdale High School with some dark side twinges. Also, this looks good that they might not be cancelling My Crazy Ex, which is GREAT!!! Maybe Rachel Bloom’s wins at the Golden Globes and Critics’ Choice over rode the concerns with the low ratings (which I don’t understand). It may be that the title turned people off. ??

    • hallie says:

      From this it looks like they have six

    • missy says:

      I would love to see “Birds of prey” come back!

  6. Ray says:

    These all sound quite insipid. I thought this upcoming season had a few supernatural dramas in development. What happened to Bathory on CBS or Brides of Dracula on NBC?

  7. Sheryl says:

    Oh no…not another Katherine Heigl pilot. Yikes!

    • Daryl says:

      I was about to post the same thing. I don’t know how she keeps getting projects picked up with her bad track record and behind-the-scenes drama.
      Hollywood is a small town. Everyone knows who the bad apples are.

    • Joey says:

      You almost want to shake the network execs and say, “Stop trying to make Katherine Heigl happen. It’s not going to work!”

      • Temperance says:

        She did happen and continues to, and for great reason. Sometimes I want to pick up people that blindly listen to imaginary garbage and just shake them. :)

        • Patrick says:

          She’s super hot, and very talented. Her personality are a concern. But, the main problem facing the nets today is sampling. They have a hard time getting people to see the show one time. If a lot of people watch it once, even for curiosity about a polarizing figure like Heigl, then maybe they will stick around and become fans. Her notoriety, be it for good or bad, is why she keeps getting work.

    • Sarah D says:

      My thoughts exactly when i read that!

    • Temperance says:

      I always have the opposite reaction: yay! More Heigl! SoA was actually pretty good, though the lead role of Charlie was a very narrowly drawn character that pretty much was the opposite of many of Heigl’s strengths as an actress.

      • NM says:

        I agree. More Katherine Heigl. Give the actress a break. I was pissed when she left Greys. Much like I was sad that Chyler (Lexie) and Eric (Mark) died. But whatever. Move on. She paid her dos but she’s a great actress and the show she’s cast in actually sounds like a good plot. Give the pilot and actress a chance without passing judgement on an incident that occurred over 6-odd years ago.

    • I look forward to her reaching the record for starring in the largest number of series cancelled during the first season. Razzy-ma-tazz!

  8. prish says:

    Presence has me for the long haul. I might check out some others.

    • Lauren says:

      Presence stuck out to me too! I am hopeful it moves forward. On the other hand the Nancy Drew description is worrisome. I feel nostalgia for those books but what do they mean she will be grappling with the modern world? They make it sound like she is travelling through time or something.

      • prish says:

        Variation on a theme? I can’t believe the silliest title ever, Pride & Prejudice/Zombies, has gotten me hooked after seeing the previews! And I am NOT into zombie/vampire shows, never having watched them after Forever Night.

  9. James D says:

    looks pretty thin IMO. ABC seems to have picked up the best projects. I’m particularly interested in Keifer’s show I’ve always wanted a show that focus on the Designated Survivor it’s ready made for good drama and Keifer Rocks. AOS spinoff also. other than that maybe 24 reboot.

  10. Paisley says:

    Team TVLine, I just wanted to say thanks for explaining all those terms! Aside from a couple of them, I had never heard of the rest, so it was an interesting read. That was quite insightful and helpful! :)

  11. Joey says:

    I don’t think a single new project is all that appealing to me…yet.

  12. Oran says:

    You forgot the new straight-to-series sitcom starring Kevin James on CBS.

  13. Grace M says:

    The only thing that has caught my interest it the possible Nancy Drew TV series. I was a big fan of the books and enjoyed the Emma Roberts move a few years ago.

  14. Eva says:

    Is the Hart To Hart revival still happening on NBC?

  15. ndixit says:

    Wasn’t there a Rupert Grint put pilot for NBC?

  16. Couch Mom says:

    Based on this limited list, the only two that sound interesting to me are Taken on NBC and Keifer’s new show on ABC.

    • Sarah D says:

      Yes, i would definently watch Taken. Would love to see Philip Winchester play a young Bryan but then again guess depends on the age. Was a 24 fan so would definently watch Keifer’s new show. Presence sounds good.

      What about the Mark Harmon/CBS Navy Seals Show? Any news on that?

    • The Sutherland one sounds like it could be excellent or gone in 13 episodes. Also, any comedy with EPs like Mike Shur or Tina Fey are worth checking out. The comedy with a family rearing a special needs kids sounds awful and maybe in bad taste.

  17. Et al. says:

    I’m thrilled to see no pilot orders at the CW. Let’s keep it that way. I don’t want to lose anything – especially Crazy Ex and The 100.

  18. Olivia says:

    The Sharpe/Lord/Miller project COULD be entertaining.
    I will give the AoS spin-off a shot, although I’m not sure to be convinced by a Bobbi/Hunter show.
    I might also check out Designated Survivor, out of curiosity.

    None of these are exciting or even have interesting premises though (well, maybe the Kiefer one), so I guess my next season watchlist will heavily rely on existing shows… and Netflix.

  19. TV Gord says:

    I’m a big fan of 12 Angry Men (and, of course, 12 Angry Men Inside Amy Schumer), so I’m definitely hopeful that we’ll see The Jury!

  20. Temperance says:

    That’s pretty slim pickings so far. Eeech. Doubt has possibilities, not much else.

  21. Laura says:

    Kristen Bell’s casting – does that mean House of Lies is unlikely to be renewed or would it shoot on a different schedule?

    On a whole, though, pretty underwhelming.

  22. Jane says:

    I thought last year was thin but this one, so far, looks even worse. I didn’t see even one listed that automatically made me want to watch it. I will still keep checking though in hope that some better sounding ones will get added.

  23. JDH says:

    Marvel & ABC wouldn’t develop a pilot starring a well known, long running & popular comic book character like Bobbi Morse, if they weren’t intending on making it a series. See every Marvel project that made it past a script stage in the last decade.

  24. Lynne says:

    So far, the only one that I’m truly interested in is the one with Kiefer and possibly the one with Queen Latifah. Its hard to imagine how shows will look based on just a blurp summary so I typically wait until I see previews before I make a final decision on shows.

  25. KC says:

    All of the FOX ones look like losers (again)

  26. Piers says:

    Mostly crappola with a couple of exceptions. A big no to 24 and Hart To Hart mainly because I’m against spinning a classic by changing gender or race in a reboot. Yes to Tangled, Rocky Horror [mainly due to Adam Lambert], MacGyver, Lifestyles [mainly for Nick Cannon] and Greatest American Hero if they get a good, young hero, Sean Faris would do, or Colin Egglesfield.

  27. chadcronin says:

    Just like last year. Pretty underwhelming list of descriptions and Cast. Still plan on watching a lot of old shows that used to have heart. Only NBC had a list of things that sounded like potential good shows. I’m sure half or more will be ruined by casting. The Kristen Bell and Justin Hartley shows I’d watch for them. I haven’t really watched any NBC shows for years so will be watching them closest

  28. THIS SUCKS. There is nothing new it seems that everything is a continuation of something or a remake of something. Hollywood has been too inbred. We need new talent because there is no writing talent left in LA.

  29. Liz B. says:

    Are there no original stories anymore? Everything’s a “reimagining,” “spin-off,” “continuation” or “adaptation.” Some stories are better left alone. USE YOUR IMAGINATIONS, PEOPLE.

  30. Charlene yeakel says:

    That’s good for vampire diaries and supernatural

  31. ninamags says:

    What about that deal with Tom Welling? Wasn’t he going to do something? I forget which network it was for, though.

  32. Amy says:

    Considering the subject matter of the movie with the same name, and the corresponding google results, maaaaaaybe HEAVENLY CREATURES should consider picking a different name.

  33. Ally Oop says:

    Time and Star look like they have potential but everything else looks like crapola.

  34. DJ says:

    Imaginary Friend is really giving my Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt vibes to the nth degree.

  35. Stacy says:

    From the taglines, The Jury could easily be the strongest of the season. The setup has a built in excuse for awesome guest stars.
    My other favorite is Good Place with Kristen Bell and Ted Danson. As long as the script doesn’t suck, the show should be magic with talent like those two!
    My overall interests:
    The Jury, UNTITLED GOLDBERG/GUARACIO PROJECT, Good PLace, Imaginary Friend, Powerless, Untitled Matt Hubbard project

  36. Amy324 says:

    Any word on Emerald City, or The Night Manager?

  37. Emmy says:

    oh crap! i just can’t take these revivals and reboots anymore tinseltown create something new or work on the ones on air dammit!

  38. PJ says:

    #ShopForever #BringBackForever Only one that looks mildly interesting in this line up is the reboot of Mcguyver. Nothing else is as inspiring as the gem they already had which was Forever with Ioan Gruffudd!

  39. Norial Ben Tovim says:

    They should #BringBackForever instead. I hope Warner Bros will (or is) making another attempt on #ShopForever again.

  40. einat162 says:

    “Forever” was too good of a show to be cancelled after one season!
    I want to see it coming back #BringBackForever .
    WB – #ShopForever

  41. Judy Branning says:

    My husband and I were in Craig Brewers Urban Cowboy. Fox choose not to pick it up after all for 2016, 3 weeks after dancing and playing bar patrons, my hysband was diagnosed with Stage 3 rectal cancer. I REALLY, REALLY, want to know how to view it or get a copy. It was the last time we danced

  42. col1n1995 says:

    You forgot Arielle Kebbel. She joins NBC’s “Midnight, Texas”. This project is very anticipated mostly because of her.

  43. Vi says:

    What about Julian Fellows Guilded Age? Downton Abby is over and you posted back in 2012 that he was working with NBC. Didn’t see it above.

  44. Frances Miller says:

    Life as a shoe salesperson. A behind-the-scenes view, one the customer never sees. Viewers???

  45. Bradley says:

    When making this list, it would be nice if they waited to get the official titles of the show instead of so-and-so project. It would also be nice if they included the premiere dates.

    • Matt Webb Mitovich says:

      1. You are looking at a months-old reference document designed primarily to be of use in the spring, as pilots are being decided on.

      2. If titles weren’t available at that time, they weren’t available at that time.

      3. By the time premiere dates are announced for the pilots that do get picked up, this document is quite obsolete.

  46. Tvpromosclip says:


  47. tvpromo says:

    just to name a few. Many of these men and women too are still touring