Month: February 2019

NYPD Blue (ABC) pilot preview: more than a reboot, a family affair

SERIES TITLE: NYPD Blue
NETWORK: ABC
GENRE: Cop Drama

LOGLINE: Andy Sipowicz’s son, Theo, tries to earn his detective shield and work in the 15th squad while investigating his father’s cold case when new information arises. Theo seems to have taken after his father as he too is a hard-drinking, hard-headed and quick-witted cop…

Pilot Cast: Fabien FrankelAlona Tal (Seal TEAM, Supernatural, Veronica Mars), Kim Delaney (NYPD Blue, Army Wives), Bill Brochtrup (NYPD Blue, Major Crimes), Rick Gomez (Band of Brothers, What About Brian), Ashley Thomas (The Night Of, 24: Legacy)…
Series Creators: Matt Olmstead (NYPD Blue, Prison Break, Breakout Kings, Chicago PD) & Nick Wootton (NYPD Blue, Chuck, Scorpion).
Pilot Director: Jesse Bochco (NYPD Blue, Agents of SHIELD, Raising The Bar).
Producers: Dayna Bochco, Jesse Bochco, Matt Olmstead & Nick Wootton.

Studios: 20th Century Fox Television & ABC Studios

Ever wonder how TV executives wade through the dozens of pilot scripts they’re pitched each year? They have staff script readers, who provide what’s called “Script Coverage,” an executive summary and a recommendation for each script. Now you too can preview some of the season’s most buzzed about pilots and find out whether we’d recommend them for pickup. Note that all opinions are our own, and all plot, casting and other creative details described here are subject to change.

 

  

You’ll Like It If You Already Like: NYPD Blue (duh!), SouthLAnd, Law & Order: SVU, Chicago PD

Likely Timeslot: Tuesday at 10, of course! The iconic timeslot on ABC where the original series stayed from the first episode to the last. And nothing really worked there since then…

 

WRITTEN BY: Matt Olmstead & Nick Wootton.

PAGECOUNT: 56 pages

DRAFT: Revised network draft 9/18/18

BACKGROUND: For those unfamililiar with it, the original NYPD Blue first aired in 1993 and is considered by many to be one of best television shows of all time. It was never a ratings juggernaut for ABC but it was a stable player and a critical darling. It won 20 Emmy Awards and 84 nominations over its 12-year run, including best drama series, and was lauded for its realistic portrayal of cops’ lives. It also generated controversy for its use of foul language, partial nudity, and its raw depiction of alcoholism, among other things.

Until Grey’s Anatomy broke the record recently, it had been the longest-running ABC prime-time drama. Longevity isn’t the only thing the two series have in common: they’re both soap-like, revolving around the characters’ professional lives intertwined with their personal ones, although Grey’s is lighter in tone where NYPD Blue was grittier and darker — especially compared to other TV series at the time. Both series also survived multiple cast changes with actors leaving and characters dying, although like Meredith Grey, Andy Sipowicz (played by Dennis Franz) stayed central from start to finish, proving to be the glue that held the show together.

NYPD Blue was co-created by Steven Bochco, one of the most important and prolific series creators ever, whose credits include Hill Street BluesL.A. LawDoogie Howser MDMurder One and the short-lived but infamous Cop Rock, a musical cop show. In 1987, he struck a $15M deal with ABC to create 10 series pilots over 10 years, which was unheard of at the time. Before he died last April at the age of 74, Bochco met with the co-writer of this new iteration and gave it his blessing. It stays in the family since Bochco’s son, Jesse (who directed 10 episodes of the original series) is executive producing and directing the pilot. Matt Olmstead and Nick Wootton, the co-creators of the new show, also worked on the original NYPD Blue at the start of their careers, reteaming with Bochco on two of his later series, Brooklyn South and Blind Justice.

Fun fact: this is not the first reboot ordered for NYPD Blue: In 2004, ABC picked-up to pilot NYPD 2069, a futuristic spin-off about an NYPD detective named Alex Franco who is declared brain-dead after an “accident”. Taken off life support, his heart continues beating, and he is cryogenically frozen for 66 years. Awakened in the year 2069 to find his wife dead, his son an aging vegetable, and his grandson a cop, Franco pleads for the right to do what he does best: police work. The pilot starred Josh Hopkins, Anna Gunn, Danny Pino, Kevin Dunn and Giancarlo Esposito, but it failed to win a series order. Go figure.

SCRIPT SYNOPSIS: After 26-year-old police officer THEO SIPOWICZ mishandles an undercover case, he’s kicked off the 30th District’s Narcotics squad. Theo is one of the best detectives on the force, but he drinks a bit too much and can be reckless on the job. He’s also mourning the death of his father ANDY SIPOWICZ of the 15th Precinct, who was murdered in a brothel 2 years ago under mysterious circumstances. After new details surface about Andy’s murder, Theo talks his way into helping the detectives of the 15th: NICOLE LAZARUS, CHRIS GAMBLE and CRAIG PETTIBONE. Ultimately, Theo’s work on his father’s case leads CHIEF ARTHUR FANCY to transfer Theo to the 15th Precinct as a squad detective, where he’s under the supervision of LIEUTENANT DIANE RUSSELL, who made a promise to her dear friend Andy to help Theo get his gold shield when he’s ready. And now he is.

COMMENTS: This new series’ link to the original NYPD Blue is both a blessing and a curse. For those who watched the original series, there’s an instant familiarity (and the opportunity for characters from the original series to return). For new viewers, it’s more challenging, as the writers have to bring them up to speed on who Andy Sipowicz was and what he represented for his colleagues, without being too obvious and boring for those of us who already know. I’m sorry to report that this pilot script struggles to find the right balance. With so much time spent on backstory, there’s simply not enough left to properly introduce most of the new characters. Theo is everywhere, but his co-lead Lazarus stays in his shadow. And the others are in the shadow of his shadow. What this means is Theo had better win the viewer’s hearts from the get-go if ABC wants them to stick around. On the bright side, the producers of the new series seem to understand this, having performed an exhaustive three month casting process before selecting Fabien Frankel for the role.

Here’s the thing with Theo Sipowicz: the creators of this reboot want him to be so much like his father — the same temper, the same struggles — that it can feel at bit insincere. I didn’t feel like he was his own character, but rather a character playing the part of another one. Perhaps that’s his actual psychological state, but it feels risky. The two would have been compared to one another anyway, so why force it? To be fair, the pilot is all about Andy’s murder, so it makes sense that he would be at the center of it. And to the producers credit, his death will not be the core mystery of the series or even the season — it’s solved by the end of the 42-minute episode. Along the way, we’re introduced to Theo and his soon-to-be colleagues in the 15th precinct, who will presumably be more at the heart of subsequent episodes. A little advice to ABC: launch the show with a two-hour premiere so people can have a better taste of what’s to come.

The highlight of the pilot for me is Kim Delaney’s character, Lieutenant Diane Russell. She had a complicated history with the original show: she joined NYPD Blue as a recurring in Season 2 and was a series regular from seasons 3 to 8 before leaving to topline another series for Steven Bochco, Philly, which didn’t last. She then returned as a recurring in the final two seasons. In any case, as one of the original series’ most beloved characters, it’s great to have her here as a mother/mentor figure for Theo. She has the power in the precinct, and having a woman in this position in the reboot makes total sense. Same goes with Bill Brochtrup’s PPA John Irvin. The actor recurred on- and off- during Seasons 2 to 4 before becoming a series regular in Season 5 for the rest of the show’s run. He’s one of those characters who became essential over time. He’s gay, which was quite something in the original show, especially since Andy was initially homophobic but they became friends to the point where he babysat Theo. John can definitely add something to the reboot, although it’s not clear exactly what that will be just yet.

 

FINAL RECOMMENDATION: The original NYPD Blue owes its success to its writers ability to portray the show’s characters as humans who happen to be cops, and the whole gamut of emotions that come with that. That’s a tall order, and the pilot script for this reboot doesn’t quite get us there. The question is: can it/will it ever? Unlike some of the more cynical projects to crop up in recent years, this project is more than just a reboot, it’s a family affair. That should help.

 

OVERALL PROJECT SCORE:

[  ] PASS
X ] CONSIDER
 ] RECOMMEND

Surveillance (CBS) pilot preview: The Sophia Bush Show

SERIES TITLE: Surveillance
NETWORK: CBS
GENRE: Thriller Spy Drama

LOGLINE: Madeline Yardley, the head of communications for the NSA for 13 years, finds her loyalties torn between protecting the government’s secrets and her own when an investigative journalist she met dies unexpectedly in mysterious circumstances…

Pilot Cast: Sophia Bush (Chicago PD, One Tree Hill), Dennis Haysbert (24, The Unit), Matthew Modine (Stranger Things, Weeds, Full Metal Jacket), Catalina Sandino-Moreno (The Affair, The Bridge), Allan Leech (Bohemian RhapsodyDownton Abbey), Raphael Acloque (Tyrant, 24: Legacy), Nick Blood (Agents of SHIELD)…
Series Creators: David C. White (The Bridge, Sons of Liberty).
Pilot Director: Patricia Riggen.
Producers: Matt Reeves (Cloverfield, The Passage, Planet of the Apes), Sophia Bush, Patricia Riggen & David C. White.
Studios: 20th Century Fox Television, CBS Television Studios & 6th & Idaho.

Ever wonder how TV executives wade through the dozens of pilot scripts they’re pitched each year? They have staff script readers, who provide what’s called “Script Coverage,” an executive summary and a recommendation for each script. Now you too can preview some of the season’s most buzzed about pilots and find out whether we’d recommend them for pickup. Note that all opinions are our own, and all plot, casting and other creative details described here are subject to change.

 

   

You’ll Like It If You Already Like: Person of Interest, Scandal, Homeland, 24…

Likely Timeslot: Monday at 9? Thursday at 10?

WRITTEN BY: David C. White

PAGECOUNT: 63 pages

DRAFT: Revised Network Draft, 1/12/19

BACKGROUND: Surveillance was picked up to pilot by CBS back in September 2018, long before the start of traditional pilot season. It was one of the biggest sales of pitch season, and marked a breakthrough in the relationship between CBS and 20th Century FOX Television as the network’s first buy from the outside studio in three years. A different incarnation of the project was originally set up at FOX for development last year, but didn’t make it to pilot stage. Instead, the script was reworked and the studio brought Sophia Bush and Patricia Riggen on board before taking the package out.

The project is a return to television for Sophia Bush, who most recently played Detective Erin Lindsay for four seasons on NBC’s Chicago PD, before exiting in 2017. The set of the cop drama has been described as a tough environment for Bush, who is said to have exited when it was clear that nothing would be done to make things right. In Surveillance, she’s not only the star of the show but also an executive producer. And she may have found a way to send a message or two to her old team through this show and this character.

SCRIPT SYNOPSIS: The pilot opens in a convenience store parking lot, with a man named JACK HERBERT leaving a payphone and returning to his mess of a car. There are laptops, cell phones, legal pads and takeout containers everywhere. We next see him cruising down empty downtown city streets, before approaching a large brick wall… and crashing right into it. The car explodes instantly. Is Jack dead? A surveillance camera filmed the whole scene.

Cut to: a hotel room. Separated from her husband and far away from her two children, this is where our heroine MADDY lives. She’s the director of Strategic Communications for the NSA. She was sleeping but is awakened her phone. She grabs it and our question is answered: Jack Herbert is indeed dead. But Maddy has no idea who’s giving her this information. Her next call is from BARRY, telling her to get to work ASAP. Barry is the NSA Deputy Director, basically her boss, but also her mentor/father figure.

At NSA headquarters, Maddy is welcomed by her close colleague and longtime friend NATALIE. Natalie oversees all active operations at the NSA, and is the first woman to do so. Maddy has a favor to ask of her: trace the call she received a few hours before, off book. Natalie accepts, but not without some hesitation. Maddy goes to the conference room, where Barry and a group of other NSA higher-ups are waiting for her. She knows all of them, except one. THE MAN IN THE RED TIE. His identity and true mission are shrouded in secrecy. They have questions for her about Jack Herbert. Turns out she met him, perhaps more than once, and she’s asked to explain what she knows about him, what he was looking for when he came to her the first time… We’re transported to that moment through a flashback and it’s clear that Maddy is lying to the committee. But why?? What is she hiding?

COMMENTS: As discussed earlier, Surveillance was not originally developed as a vehicle for Sophia Bush, and I can’t help but wonder if she’s the right fit. Part of that may be because I know her from One Tree Hill, where she signed brighter than most of her co-stars, and from the short-lived sitcom Partners, where she proved she could be very funny. And although I’m less familiar with her work on Chicago PD (for which she was also lauded), her character in Surveillance feels very different. For one, she’s described in the script as a woman in her forties. (Bush herself is in her mid-thirties.) In addition, this isn’t just a leading role, the entire show is built her character, with Maddy appearing in nearly every scene of the pilot. That’s a lot to put on Bush in her first go as series lead, but clearly 20th Century FOX & CBS think she’s ready. Let’s hope they’re right.

The first season of the series has a title — “Operation Blackwash” — suggesting there will be one central storyline each year, with most of the cast and characters returning for subsequent seasons, except those who will die. Because this is the kind of show where people die, a lot. And, um, un-die sometimes. This is a big conspiracy thriller, with no holds barred. But as different as that may seem from the typical CBS formula show, it’s not revolutionary, either. At this point, you really can’t make a TV show about the inner workings of a federal institution, whether it be the FBI, the CIA or the NSA, without being compared to what’s been done (and done well) before. Which brings us to Homeland. The Showtime drama is definitely an influence on Surveillance, and there’s a lot of Carrie Mathison in Madeline Yardley, not only because she’s a woman in a world of powerful men — which is resonant with Bush’s own story — but also because she’s basically the same character: brilliant, determined, complex, and married to her job. She also has a messy private life — is an affair going on there? — and the requisite stress that comes with a job where a single mistake can lead to death and destruction.

The pilot plays the suspense card very well, revealing plenty of tantalizing details along the way. This isn’t Scandal — it’s not an over-the-top spectacle with characters over-reacting to everything — but Maddy’s job is pretty similar to Olivia Pope’s: she fixes problems, she sometimes hides the truth for the greater good, she manipulates, she bargains, and she threatens. This is serious stuff, but it’s also quite exciting. That it manages this may be the script’s greatest achievement. The NSA is about people working behind desks, making phone calls, watching, listening, and taking meetings, but the script’s fast pace compensates for that, and then some.

The show’s secondary characters stay mostly in Maddy’s shadow in the pilot script, but that’s not a problem at this point. If the show gets picked up to a full network-sized season, they’ll definitely need to be developed in later episodes to be more than just pawns in this wicked game but also actual human beings with their own stories.

FINAL RECOMMENDATION: Surveillance is a little risky, but it’s too good a script not to try. It’s timely and captivating, and has the potential to do for CBS what The Good Wifeand Person Of Interest have done in seasons past. Poor execution or an unconvincing performance from Sophia Bush could quickly turn it into something less compelling but let’s be optimistic!

 

OVERALL PROJECT SCORE:

[  ] PASS
  ] CONSIDER
X ] RECOMMEND