Every year, each of the major TV networks produces a couple dozen pilots for new shows before determining which ones to air that fall. Programming execs at all the big networks just this week picked which pilots to scrap and which ones to air this coming season, but they left some rather promising shows by the wayside. Collected below is info on 10 of the coolest-sounding comedies that ABC, CBS, NBC, and Fox passed over. I haven’t seen the pilots for these shows; this list is just going off of their premises and the previous work of the cast and crew.
One last thing before we start, I want iterate that this post isn’t about blaming any of the networks for passing up potentially-funny shows. Even if a pilot has a talented cast, an accomplished showrunner, and an engaging premise, the end product could still end up being garbage because of any number of factors. Or an awesome comedy might have been passed up because it was too smart or weird for a mainstream audience. Despite the glut of compelling shows that won’t be making it to air this fall (and a few unexciting ones that will be), the networks did a lot of good this year overal, sticking with some excellent but low-rated shows when they didn’t have to. Five of the best comedies on network TV – Parks and Rec, Community, 30 Rock, BFFs, and Happy Endings – all suffer from low ratings, but we should be thankful that their respective networks renewed all but one (sadly, BFFs) for next year.
Without further ado, let's take a look at some neat shows we'll never get to see from super talented people.
Susan 313 – NBC
Produced by Ron Howard and created by Sarah Silverman and her frequent collaborators Dan Sterling and Jon Schroeder, Susan 313 starred Silverman as a newly-single woman returning to her old life and apartment after a long-term relationship falls apart. Silverman recruited talented comedy buddies like Tig Notaro, June Diane Raphael, and Harris Wittels and Lost’s Ken Leung to round out the cast, with Jeff Goldblum signing on to guest star. Susan 313 would have nicely complemented NBC's other female-driven comedies (Parks and Rec, 30 Rock, Whitney), but the network ultimately passed.
Entry Level – CBS
CBS hasn’t had a single camera comedy since the one-season-and-out Worst Week in 2008, and this new show was expected to break that streak. Created by Nick Stoller, an Apatow disciple and frequent Jason Segel collaborator who wrote and/or directed Forgetting Sarah Marshall, Get Him to Greek, The Muppets, and most recently, The Five-Year Engagement, Entry Level followed a guy in his mid-20s (Michael Angarano) who has to work a cubicle away from the girl that broke his heart (Brie Larson) at an ad agency. The pilot for Entry Level was well-liked by the network and was an early frontrunner for being picked up, but CBS must have decided the single-camera feel didn’t jive with its multi-camera sitcom blocks.
El Jefe – Fox
After Party Down was given the axe by the Starz network, members of the show’s cast were quick to jump into supporting roles on series like Parks and Rec, New Girl, and NTSF, but Ryan Hansen’s first show after Party Down's untimely demise was the doomed-from-the-start NBC sitcom Friends with Benefits, which was screwed over with an awful timeslot after an NBC regime change. Hansen doubled-down this pilot season, though, with two projects in contention to be network series (see also: Untitled C.K./Feresten, below). The first, El Jefe, starred him as a guy in his mid-30s who gets kicked out of his parents’ house and decides to move in with his longtime nanny and her family. Sounds like a solid premise and a great vehicle for Hansen, who deserves a break, and the show got good buzz from Fox brass early on, but the network ultimately decided to not pick it up.
Untitled Louis C.K./Spike Feresten Project – CBS
Back in the late 90s, Louis C.K. and Seinfeld writer Spike Feresten created a show for CBS together called Boomtown, about a bunch of young people pursuing their creative dreams. Boomtown was then supposed to star C.K. and his friends, but the network passed on it. Last year, 12 years after the pilot was originally written, an ex-CBS exec found a copy of the script and talked Louis C.K. and Spike Feresten into writing an updated draft. CBS became interested in the project once again, and Cougar Town’s Dan Byrd and High School Musical’s Ashley Tisdale were cast as the leads, along with Ryan Hansen, who signed on as a guest star with the option of becoming a series regular if his other show, El Jefe, didn’t go through. Unfortunately, neither of Hansen’s shows were picked up, as Boomtown was rejected for a second time. Here's hoping the third time is a charm when Louis C.K. and Spike Feresten pitch the show again in another 12 years.
I know the thought of current golden boy Louis C.K. having two shows on the air at once probably makes comedy fans’ mouths water, but C.K. has consistently done his best work when he’s been free from the shackles of mainstream networks and studios. This was set to be a multi-camera show on the big network that has the worst reputation for comedy, so the show probably wouldn’t have been as great as you’re building it up to be in your head. It’s best that C.K.’s time is spent on his standup and his FX show, where he enjoys complete creative control and doesn't have to deal with meddling network execs or anyone from High School Musical.
Living Loaded – Fox
Produced by the It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia trio of Rob McElhenney, Charlie Day, and Glenn Howerton, and co-created by McElhenney, Living Loaded was a single-camera comedy based on the book of the same name by Dan Dunn. The show starred Mike Vogel (Cloverfield, Pan Am) as a hard-partying blogger (clearly based on my life btw) who transitions to a career as a public radio host. Ringers like Donald Sutherland and Larry Wilmore also signed on for supporting roles. It’d be nice to see the Always Sunny guys work on network TV, but Fox opted not to pick up Living Loaded. This was the second network pilot the Always Sunny trio worked on together, the other being another rejected Fox show, 2009’s Boldly Going Nowhere, a space comedy that starred Tony Hale, Lennon Parham, and David Hornsby.
Untitled Ben Falcone/Larry Dorf Project – CBS
Ben Falcone, the real-life husband of Melissa McCarthy who played her Air Marshal love interest in Bridesmaids, created this series with writing partner Larry Dorf as a starring vehicle for himself. Falcone would have played a guy in his late 30s who loses everything in the real estate collapse and has to move back in with his parents. Melissa McCarthy was producing the show, which featured an outstanding supporting cast (Rachael Harris, Judd Hirsch, Andrea Martin), but CBS only added one comedy to its fall schedule, and this wasn’t it.
Little Brother – Fox
Fintan Ryan and Men of a Certain Age co-creator Mike Royce, created this single-camera comedy about a guy (John Stamos) who tracks down a half-brother he never knew about who is an ex-con (T.J. Miller). The pilot scored high marks from the network initially but didn’t make it through the series pickup gauntlet. Despite this, Deadline reported that Fox execs were “impressed by John Stamos and his chemistry with T.J. Miller.” It’s a shame that this one didn’t get sold because more T.J. Miller is never a bad thing. The guy’s been really funny in supporting parts in movies and TV the past few years, and it’s about time he wins a starring role. More projects like this one mean T.J. Miller spends less time around CGI bears, which is when I think he does his best work. When he's acting opposite people, not computer-generated bears.
Awesometown – ABC
Not related to the Lonely Island’s pre-SNL sketch show pilot of the same name, Awesometown was a sitcom about a guy (Ben Rappaport) in his mid-20s who divorces his wife after catching her cheating on him and moves in with his best friends. Brett Gelman, Nick Kocher from the Internet sketch duo BriTANick, and um, Dennis Miller all had supporting parts. Dennis Miller played the goofy boss, not the guy who sleeps with the main character's lady. It's safe to say we're all aware of the deep yearning women in their 20s feel for Dennis Miller, but it's hard to capture it on film.
Rebounding – Fox
Everyone knows Will Forte is one of the funniest guys going, and seeing him on a weekly series again would be a delight. Rebounding was a pilot that starred Forte as a guy getting over the death of his wife with support from the guys on his pick-up basketball team. That premise just screams comedy, right? What's funnier than grieving and/or loss? This show sounds like it had both! And how clever is that title? Take a few minutes to think about it, you’ll get it. It’s a double meaning. It’s nuanced. All ribbing aside, though, seeing a sitcom with Will Forte as a its lead would be great no matter what it is. He’s been busy racking up big parts elsewhere, though, with recurring roles on 30 Rock and Up All Night and supporting turns in three big summer movies: That’s My Boy, Rock of Ages, and The Watch.
NOTE: NBC is delving into the comedy goldmine that is the death of a loved one this fall in the new Matthew Perry sitcom Go On.
Friday Night Dinner – NBC
I've been saying for a while now that Greg Daniels is the unsung hero of modern comedy. You may not hear his name thrown around a lot when people are discussing comedy writers, but Daniels’s track record is perfect… almost eerily perfect. The man co-created Parks and Rec, The Office (US), and King of the Hill in addition to writing for The Simpsons, Seinfeld, and SNL (during its late 80s Hartman/Hooks/Odenkirk/Smigel/O’Brien heyday). That’s why his latest TV project, an adaptation of the UK series Friday Night Dinner, caught my eye and quickly rose to the top of my list of new comedies I was looking forward to this year. The amazing cast Daniels lined up (Tony Shalhoub, Allison Janney, and UCB performer and Two and a Half Men marathon watcher Gil Ozeri) only sweetened the deal. Friday Night Dinner’s premise is simple enough: a family meets for dinner every Friday night, with each episode revolving around one week’s dinner. With some of the pilots on this list, you can see where the weak points are, but not Friday Night Dinner. Greg Daniels has proven he can adapt a UK series ably (The Office is the biggest comedy hit of NBC’s post-Friends era), and his track record is so spotless that anything he touches should warrant an instant six-season pickup.
Bradford Evans is a writer living in Los Angeles.