Ultimate sci-fi TV pilot guide: Your favorite shows of the future

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Dec 14, 2012, 4:09 PM EST

TV pilot season is a result of what happened on television the previous fall, and considering that the only sci-fi or fantasy "hit" of the season was The CW's The Vampire Diaries, with other new shows performing marginally and returning shows like Heroes fading, the broadcast networks aren't feeling a lot of love for the fantastic. In fact, CBS doesn't have anything in the pipe at all.

If you take a look through the pilots that have been ordered by broadcast and cable networks you'll see cops, lawyers, doctors, spies and families. Although there are some shows that lean toward the sci-fi-ish end of the spectrum, there are only a handful of new shows of any stripe that are going to land on the air.

Here's our list by network of the sci-fi and fantasy pilots, shows with the possibility of sci-fi and fantasy in them and shows that have been ordered to series. We've rated them on how we're guessing they'll do based on interest, star power and idea originality on a scale of 0-100 percent. (Possible spoilers ahead!)

Which are your favorites?



The Gates The supernatural crime drama sort of sounds like an anti-Eureka. It's about "a big-city cop who becomes chief of police in a seemingly sleepy planned community only to discover there's much more to the residents than meets the eye." What could that be, you ask? How about a cardiologist who is actually a "vampire-like creature" in the form of actor Luke Mably? Prison Break's Frank Grillo plays the new police chief, Nick Monohan. Janina Gavankar plays Leigh Turner, a sexy cop with a secret.
Chance of pickup: 100 percent. The Gates has a blind 13-episode commitment and will likely find a home during the summer.

No Ordinary Family Could this potential series be the new Heroes? The Shield's Michael Chiklis and Angel/Dexter's Julie Benz star in this drama, which revolves around a typical American family who experience strange things when they suddenly find themselves with new abilities. Chiklis plays the dad and Benz plays the mom, Stephanie, "a gifted scientist who develops a power for superspeed." No Ordinary Family comes from Jon Harmon Feldman (Tru Calling) and Greg Berlanti (Eli Stone). The series also stars Autumn Reeser, Romany Malco, Jimmy Bennett, Kay Panabaker and Christina Chang.
Chance of pickup: 75 percent. Chiklis is a star, and with Heroes certainly at the end of its run this season or next, we're liking No Ordinary Family's chances.


Terra Nova Steven Spielberg must be getting bored with movies, or maybe he's just missing dinosaurs. He and Peter Chernin are trying to put together a deal for this time-travel drama "about a family from 100 years in the future who travel back in time 150 million years to the strange and inhospitable environments of prehistoric earth." According to Variety, the project would involve sets and special effects that are so elaborate that it would only be cost-effective to order it directly to series. That means it's either all or nothing on this one, so there's no actual order for a pilot yet. Craig Silverstein and British writer Kelly Marcel wrote the script, based on Marcel's idea.
Chance of pickup: 20 percent. It's Spielberg, baby! And that means it's really, really expensive, baby!

Torchwood Doctor Who/Torchwood's Russell T Davies no sooner came to the U.S. than he promptly pitched Fox a U.S. version of Torchwood. There's also been talk that original star John Barrowman might reprise his role as Captain Jack and that the series, about a covert group of alien hunters, would focus on more internationally based stories. It's a long shot that this would go through. BBC America still holds the broadcast rights, and, as far as we know, it hasn't been canceled across the pond. That doesn't mean that there couldn't also be an American version, but there's some work to do to make a deal come together. It all sounds too good to be true.
Chance of pickup: 20 percent. We'll believe it when we see it, and we'd really like to see it.


The Cape The other superhero offering is The Cape, about "a former cop framed for a crime he didn't commit who becomes the Cape, a masked hero, to clear his name and reunite with his son." ER's Australian actor David Lyons plays the ex-cop, Vince Faraday. The series was created by Tom Wheeler, and the pilot is being directed by Simon West (Human Target).
Chance of pickup: 65 percent. Lyons is a star waiting to happen, and NBC isn't afraid of superheroes.

Day One Oh, poor Day One. Did NBC screw this one up or what? Jesse Alexander's (Heroes, Lost, Alias) "series" was picked up as a midseason replacement, only to have its order trimmed down until it was nothing more than a two-hour TV movie. The story follows what happens when "an eclectic group of neighbors in a Van Nuys, Calif., apartment building" find themselves on a quest for survival after "a global event devastates the world's infrastructures." Huh? Well, the "global catastrophe" turns out to be an alien invasion, but why couldn't NBC just come out with it? Who knows? Maybe they were scared of ABC's V taking all the alien-invasion mojo away from them. All that said, the script is great, and Alexander knows how to write sci-fi television. On the unfortunate side, the "series" stars David Lyons, who's also been cast in NBC's The Cape. Day One's cast includes Adam Campbell, Julie Gonzalo, Catherine Dent, Derek Mio, Carly Pope, Addison Timlin and Thekla Reuten.
Chance of pickup: 8 percent. For whatever reason, NBC's turned its back on this one, and it will be lucky even to air as a television movie at this point.

The Event Who knows if there's actually any real sci-fi or fantasy at the core of The Event, but we're liking the chances. From The 4400's Nick Wauters, the pilot is "a thriller with a unique storytelling device that features multiple points of view concerning a decent, regular fellow who battles against mysterious circumstances that envelop a larger conspiracy." The "decent, regular fellow" is played by Jason Ritter, who stars along with Blair Underwood, Sara Roemer, Scott Peterson, Zeljko Ivanek, Ian Anthony Dale, Taylor Cole and Wes Ramsey.
Chance of pickup: 25 percent. Well, the summary couldn't be any more vague, and it reminds us of Day One's "global event." We're thinking this one is a bit of a long shot.

Nine Lives Call this Spielberg 2.0. Originally developed for Syfy, this near-death drama may be revived by Steven Spielberg. "Nine Lives unfolds as an epic story of love, exploring the greatest mystery of all ... what happens after you die? The drama focuses on several characters, each grieving over the loss of a loved one. First by accident, then intentionally induced, each has discovered how to reunite with their loved ones in the afterlife through near-death experiences. But each journey to the other side brings closer an unknown evil, which is about to be unleashed on mankind." Written by Taken's Leslie Bohem.
Chance of pickup: 15 percent. Bohem is brilliant, and Spielberg's a force of nature, but we're not liking its chances.

Undercovers J.J. Abrams' latest takes him back to the spy game as "a domesticated husband and wife return from years in retirement and are re-activated as CIA agents. As they work together for the first time on new cases, they discover new aspects from their past—even as they re-ignite their passion for each other." While this certainly could be a sci-fi-free series, we also know that Abrams loves sci-fi and loves to sell a sci-fi story as spy story, at least based on his work on Alias. The pilot was written by Abrams and Dirty Sexy Money's Josh Reims and features Boris Kodjoe (Surrogates) as Steven Bloom and British actress Gugu Mbatha-Raw (Doctor Who) as his wife, Samantha. The pilot also stars Carter MacIntyre, Gerald McRaney, Jessica Parker Kennedy and Ben Schwartz.
Chance of pickup: 80 percent. Undercovers seems to have a good chance, considering Abrams knows how to do spy stuff. If he can rein in the Alias-esque bizarre sci-fi plots just a bit, this has great potential.

The CW

Betwixt This very CW pilot focuses on "three teenagers who discover their lineage has granted them special abilities, which they use to fight evil." Based on the young adult novel by Tara Bray Smith, the script was written by Elizabeth Chandler (Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants), and Christian Duguay (The Beautiful Life) will direct. Kings' Allison Miller has been cast as one of the teens. Executive producers Carol Barbee (Jericho) and Paul Stupin are also on board.
Chance of pickup: 50 percent. With so much other fantastic fare already renewed for next year (The Vampire Diaries, Supernatural, Smallville), The CW may decide a spy show like Nikita is more their style.

Nikita Anne Parillaud, Bridget Fonda and Peta Wilson have all played angry spy girl La Femme Nikita in one incarnation or another. The CW has tapped Live Free or Die Hard's beautiful and kick-ass Maggie Q as their Nikita. In this version of the film/television franchise, "Nikita, an assassin for a top-secret government organization, goes rogue, and a troubled 19-year-old girl named Alex is recruited to bring her in." While previous TV series La Femme Nikita wasn't out-and-out sci-fi, it did manage some by the end of its run. This pilot is from Craig Silverstein (Bones), with Danny Cannon directing. McG and Peter Johnson also serve as executive producers. Shane West stars as Michael.
Chance of pickup: 80 percent. We're liking Nikita's chances; it has the opportunity to be filled with action, pretty, kickass ladies and nonsensical spy stuff.

Nomads From super producers David W. Zucker, Ridley Scott and Tony Scott, this action drama may not have a lot of sci-fi, but it looks like a lot of fun. It's about "a group of nearly broke young backpackers abroad who agree to earn money by working secret missions for the CIA." NUMB3RS' Ken Sanzel wrote the pilot, and Scott Porter has been tapped to star.
Chance of pickup: 50 percent. It's got the producing muscle, and this might make a good Friday night companion with Smallville. But if The CW only takes on one of these three, we're liking Nikita for the top choice because of the name recognition of Maggie Q's casting.



The Walking Dead You've got to love what happens after a good zombie apocalypse. The Walking Dead follows a group of survivors who travel in search of a safe and secure home. Based on the comic book by Robert Kirkman, "the comic goes on to explore the challenges of life in a world overrun by zombies who take a toll on the survivors, and sometimes the interpersonal conflicts present a greater danger to their continuing survival than the zombies that roam the country. Over time, the characters are changed by the constant exposure to death, and some grow willing to do anything to survive." This one is from The Green Mile's Frank Darabont, with Gale Anne Hurd and David Alpert executive-producing.
Chance of pickup: 75 percent. The Walking Dead has a strong crew behind the scenes, and let's face it, it's time for a good television zombie apocalypse.


Steven Spielberg's Untitled Alien Invasion Series Steven Spielberg 3.0. We don't have a title yet, but this "untitled alien invasion series" does have star Noah Wylie (The Librarian) playing the college professor who becomes the reluctant leader of "a rag-tag group of soldiers and civilians as they struggle against an occupying alien force." The series begins "shortly after aliens have wiped out most of the human population. The aliens are now rounding up the few people left, but they are met with strong resistance from a group of soldiers and civilians who fight for their survival all while struggling to maintain their humanity." The series was created by Saving Private Ryan's Robert Rodat and is produced by DreamWorks Television. The series also stars Moon Bloodgood, Drew Roy, Maxim Knight, Jessy Schram and Seychelle Gabriel.
Chance of pickup: 100 percent. It's already headed to series, and 10 episodes have been ordered.


Game of Thrones Based on the George R.R. Martin fantasy novel series A Song of Ice and Fire, the series follows ""an epic struggle for power set in a vast and violent kingdom." It's high fantasy, and the pay cable channel has hopes for seven seasons, one for each book. D.B. Weiss and David Benioff created the series and executive-produce. The cast is huge, with some familiar names, including Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles' Lena Headey, New Amsterdam's Nikolaj Coster-Waldau, Threshold's Peter Dinklage, Silent Hill's Sean Bean and Stargate Atlantis' Jason Momoa.
Chance of pickup: 100 percent. HBO already has a 10-episode commitment.

Cartoon Network

Tower Prep Think a young The Prisoner. A rebellious teen named Ian, played by Drew Van Acker, "wakes up one morning to find himself trapped at a mysterious prep school focused on tapping into the 'unique potential' of its students. Ian forms a secret group with fellow students CJ (Elise Gatien), Gabe (Ryan Pinkston) and Suki (Dyana Liu) as they search for answers to where they are and how to get home." This live-action scripted drama, which may or may not involve sci-fi, was created by Paul Dini (Lost). Tower Prep is a working title and so it may change.
Chance of pickup: 100 percent. Thirteen episodes have been ordered, with the series premiering later this year.

Unnatural History Think a young Indiana Jones/Night at the Museum. This live-action scripted drama, which again may or may not involve sci-fi or fantasy, is "an action-packed mystery series centering on Henry Griffin (Kevin G. Schmidt), a teenager with exceptional skills acquired through years of globe-trotting with his anthropologist parents. Shipped off to a high school in Washington, Henry and his smooth-talking cousin Jasper (Jordan Gavaris) find themselves wrapped up in mysteries revolving around the national museum." Unnatural History is from The Mask's Mike Werb, and the pilot was directed by Emmy winner Mikael Salomon (The Andromeda Strain).
Chance of pickup: 100 percent. Thirteen episodes have been ordered, with the series premiering later this year.

Network Unknown

Untitled Star Wars live-action TV Series This project's been in the works for years and still doesn't have a title. According to rumors, George Lucas is courting Britain's top writers for pitches, OR scripts have been written, OR casting has started, OR none of the above. The idea is that the series would be set between Revenge of the Sith and A New Hope and would focus on minor characters, such as the smugglers and bounty hunters. Lucas would definitely like to do this, and he's said he would write and produce the first season, and then "hand it off from there" and oversee the series as executive producer.
Chance of pickup: Who knows? No network is attached, and even though Lucas says he can produce the episodes for $1 million, it's going to take a lot of special effects to pull this one off. Still, he's faced greater odds, like getting Star Wars made in the first place.

Death Valley This cable pilot is in casting, but we haven't been able to find out which cable channel is doing it. It's a dark comedy about "the adventures of a team of cops that police monsters and crimes of the undead."
Chance of pickup: Unknown. It sounds cool, but we need to know more before guessing about pickup chances ... like what cable network is interested and who's behind it.

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