[These capsules aren't meant as reviews. Most of these pilots will undergo at least minor -- and possibly major -- alterations, tweaks and recastings before they make it on air in the fall. These are, however, my first impressions:]
Show: "Runaway" (The CW - Drama)
The Pitch: "Everwood: Criminal Intent"
Quick Response: It's peculiar -- there's this backstory involving family patriarch Donnie Wahlberg trying to clear his name from a murder he swears he didn't commit. However, the pilot, which looks and feels very much like it belongs on the now-defunct-WB, obviously has its heart in the displaced family melodrama, a la "Everwood." Will the teenage daughter be able to suddenly become popular at her new school and date the football stud, even though he seems to be dating her only friend in town? Will the teenage son remain true to his girlfriend back home and will he be able to retain his former popularity? Will the young son say too much and get the family in trouble? With all of teen-baiting, the subplot involving Wahlberg's investigation and the ever-encroaching police presence seems like an afterthought or worse (particularly since the pilot's climax resorts to the same "Silence of the Lambs" suspense switcheroo that has now become a total cliche).
Desire To Watch Again: Moderate-to-Low -- Much will depend on the quality of "Heroes" on NBC, as I look for ways to kill the Monday 9 p.m. slot until "24" starts in January.
Possible Role For Eric Balfour? Alas, No. That's just bad writing, folks.
Show: "Class" (CBS - Comedy)
The Pitch: "Ross, Rachel, Monica, Chandler, Phoebe and Joey's Third Grade Reunion"
Quick Response: Mostly attractive white people who haven't seen each other in 20 years get back together and, thanks to a healthy laugh track, become "Friends." Or, rather, friends. The absence of a definable location for the pilot is an obvious problem, as is CBS' ongoing difficulties finding minorities to star in their comedies. Oh and Andrea Anders (31), Sean Maguire (30), Jesse Tyler Ferguson (30), Jason Ritter (26) and Lizzie Caplan (24) are all actors who look their ages. That's not an insult, but in the pilot, I didn't buy these people as peers for a single second.
Desire To Watch Again: Low-to-Moderate -- If I'm already watching the far-superior "How I Met Your Mother," I might stick around, but I'm far more likely to just watch "Prison Break."
Possible Role For Eric Balfour? Three or four parts could have been played by Mr. Balfour, by my estimation. But can Eric Balfour be funny? Who's to say!
Show: "Shark" (CBS - Drama)
The Pitch: As my colleague Rick put it, "House, J.D."
Quick Response: Crotchety misanthrope tutors fresh-faced innocents on the finer points of the profession relying mostly on insults and a near clairvoyant understanding of the human condition (insight that doesn't extend into his own personal relationships). Yup. Sounds like "House" only with James Wood practicing the law. Thankfully, James Wood is great fun to watch in the pilot. Most of the supporting characters are interchangeable ("House" only has three underlings, but "Shark" has five or six or maybe seven -- I lost track). It's also a safe bet that "Shark" will follow the "House" formula of going through a string of unsuccessful prosecutorial strategies before having his genius moment in the end. Boy, they'd better find a way to use Jeri Ryan, because she's wasted in the pilot.
Desire To Watch Again: Low -- But I may tune in once or twice if ABC's "Six Degrees" isn't very good.
Possible Role For Eric Balfour? Sam Page is playing the Justin Chambers (for you "Grey's Anatomy" fans) part, which could just as easily be the Eric Balfour part.
Show: "Jericho" (CBS - Drama)
The Pitch: "Survivor: Kansas"
Quick Response: When did Skeet Ulrich become so old and decidedly undreamy? When did Gerald McRaney become so respectable and cool? If I think Ashley Scott is hot and if I really liked interviewing her for "Into the Blue," why am I not convinced she's a TV star? When a small Kansas town becomes cut off from the rest of the world by a series of nuclear attacks, the community has to come together and... I dunno what. There are sci-fi fans out there looking for a new cult-y show to take the place of the cancelled "Invasion," "Fathom" and "Threshold" and this is intriguing them, but the pilot doesn't really give a clear picture of where the story is going. The central relationships set out in the first 44 minutes are the kind of things we've seen in dozens of shows, but the isolation and nuclear subplots may keep things fresh.
Desire To Watch Again: Moderate -- I'm curious as to what direction this one will take and as long as "America's Next Top Model" is on the TiVo in the office, I can give this one an episode or two.
Possible Role For Eric Balfour? I would like to see a show where Skeet Ulrich and Eric Balfour play brothers who sit around a coffee shop all day and talk about their facial hair. Surely such a part could be written into this pilot?
Show: "Smith" (CBS - Drama)
The Pitch: "
Quick Response: Ray Liotta, Simon Baker, Virginia Madsen, Jonny Lee Miller, Amy Smart, Shoreh Aghdashaloo, Chris Bauer (Frank Sobotka of "The Wire") -- that's what I call a cast. It's cool enough to see all of those actors together that I'm willing to temporarily forgive producer John Wells' trademark leaden atmospherics and hyper-serious tone. It's not quite as morose as FX's "Thief" and not quite as bubble-headed and glib as NBC's "Heist." As much as I loved "Ocean's 11," it sortta unleashed this impression in the creative community that audiences have an unquenchable desire to watch endless permutations on the "personable and specialized crooks plan one perfect crime after another" formula. Based on the ratings for "Thief" and "Heist," that's obviously not the case. The "Smith" pilot is 61 minutes long, which makes me wonder if CBS plans to film another 20 minutes and do a two-hour premiere, if they plan to get a single advertiser to go commercial-free or if they're going to cut 15 minutes from what's here. Regardless, what I saw on screen interested me, though I was probably engaged more by the actors -- Liotta is superior and I was impressed with how well Smart held her own -- than by the characters themselves.
Desire To Watch Again: Strong -- Despite the large number of potential plotlines set out in the pilot, I'm not sure that I'm enthusiastic about catching this one week-in-week-out, but I'm very interested to see where the story goes from here.
Possible Role For Eric Balfour? Several, probably, but I'd kinda like to keep this cast the way it is.
Have any of these shows caught your attention yet?