Take Me to the Pilot

Development Hell Department (2005-06)
A Special Report from Chris Gumprich

MARCH 2005

Coming to a television set neat you? Er, don’t hold your breath…

We’ve come a long, long way from the glory days of the 1970s and early eighties when it seemed every other TV drama involved a private eye. In the 2005-06 season, only three P.I.-themed shows made their debut.

UPN’s Veronica Mars (which made its debut in Fall 2004), Jonny Zero on FOX (cancelled after just eight airings), and the Eyes (which made its debut March 30 on ABC), which was actually kinda great, but was also canned. The season wasn’t the gumshoe renaissance fans had been waiting for, but at least a couple of the pilots seem strong contenders for full orders. Alas, only Veronica Mars even made it to a second season.

Unsuccessful pilots which could have been considered P.I. shows included:

  • The Night Stalker (ABC)
    A revival of the 1972-75 series featuring reporter Carl Kolchak as he uncovers supernatural goings-on. Stuart Townsend has been cast as Kolchak. No word on creator Jeff Rice’s involvement.
  • Soccer Moms (ABC)
    A drama about two suburban housewives who team up as private investigators. Solid shot at a pickup on the strength of the show’s leads: Cynthia (Sex and the City) Nixon and Gina (Firefly) Torres.
  • Spy Girl (WB)
    Based on the bestseller by Amy Gray, this drama focuses on a “twenty-something Ivy League graduate” who quits her job to pursue her childhood dream of becoming a private investigator.
  • Untitled Barry Sonnenfeld Project (CBS)
    Described as a private eye drama set in the Bahamas, this series is from the man who brought us the failed private eye-like series Karen Sisco. Director/producer Sonnenfeld is allegedly hard at work shooting the script by Mark Haskell Smith.
  • Untitled Jennifer Salt Project (FOX)
    A drama about a female private eye who’s also a manic depressive sounds similar in concept to failed pilot The Webster Report, but that’s all anyone knows about it at this stage.
  • Zen Justice (CBS)
    Based on the series of Zen Moses novels by Elisabeth M. Cosin, this series features an L.A. private detective who is also a lung cancer survivor.
  • The Catch (ABC)
    According to Futon Critic, “Filming began today on the long-in-the-works drama pilot, which stars Greg Grunberg, Don Rickles and Kym Whitley. The newly revamped Touchstone Television/Bad Robot-based project will now focus on a single father/private eye (Grunberg), his grandfather-partner (Rickles) and their new partner (Whitley). In addition, Joanne Kelly (“Jeremiah”) and newcomer Daylia Wallace have been added to the cast as the sister and daughter respectively of Grunberg’s character. Grunberg and J.J. Abrams created the series, while John Eisendrath (“Playmakers”) is also attached to executive produce.” TV Guide, meanwhile, reports that this is a “long-in-the-works pet project” of Abrams, one of three pilots in the running to appear on ABC’s fall schedule (the others are Pros and Cons, a drama about scam artists working for the Feds, and What About Brian?, a sit-com).

And if we stretch the definition a little further, we could also include the dramas Briar & Graves (priest and doctor investigating unexplained religious phenomena), Motel Man (a proposed sci-fi series about a police detective and some unexplained objects with strange abilities), and the reality series Recovery (from Survivor-guy Mark Burnett, involving an FBI team that hunts down missing things).

Will any of these pilots become the next Rockford Files, or will they end up as the next (gasp) Dellaventura? Only time — and network executives — can tell.

ADDENDUM

Just to show how tentative this all is, the following private eye shows, mini-series, pilots and TV movies were also tentatively scheduled for 2004-05 season. At this point, they all seem pretty much toast, but you never know.

The Shows

People Involved

The Scoop

Presumed

Status

Dicks
(WB)
(aka "Other People's Business")

Danny DeVito (executive producer)
Rhea Perlman

Perlman teaches rookie P.I.s the ropes.

TOAST

Aaron Spelling (producer)
Walter Mosley (producer)
Danny Glover
Bill Smitrovich
Rosanna Arquette
A. Martinez

Ex-con Oakland police officer becomes a private detective.

TOAST

Vincent Ventresca
Katherine Heigl

Con artist scams his way into a gig as the house detective at a swanky Las Vegas casino.

TOAST

City of Angels
(NBC)

Jimmy Smits (star)
David Mills (writer)

Scrapped before it even saw a pilot. Smits signed a deal to appear on The West Wing instead. 

TOAST

Walter Mosley (creator)

In January 2004, Variety reported that Walter Mosley would write and produce a new one-hour drama series, featuring all-new stories beginning at the chronological point of Mosley's recent Rawlins book "Six Easy Pieces." I'm not sure if this is instead of -- or as well -- as his involvement in the CBS project, The Law and Mr. Lee.

TOAST

Report respectfully submitted by Chris Gumprich,with additional information supplied by Kevin Burton Smith and Paul Guyot.

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