[Cut-and-Paste Disclaimer: 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: "Big Day" (ABC - Comedy)
Quick Response: Yes. Wedding days are chaos. I get it. At least this one is better than FOX's "Wedding Album," which is in a state of major upheaval as we speak. "Big Day" has the advantage of being just loaded with actors I like, including Marla Sokoloff, one of my 10 or 15 favorite people on television (she's cute, funny and Jewish... What can I say?). Add in friendly faces like Kurt Fuller, Miriam Shor, Wendie Malick and even Josh Cooke (who I don't mind, despite not enjoying any of his shows) and there's very little pain in watching the cast. The "24"-style conceit of following the last 11 or 12 hours before a wedding is amusing until you imagine the fourth or fifth different episode in which either the bride or groom gets cold feet and suddenly it sounds REALLY exhausting. Yes, the pilot opens a number of doors for how the show can go from here, but is there really going to be an episode in which Marla Sokoloff steals the Caesar salads from the wedding one town over? If so, I think I may need to watch ANYTHING else instead. On the other hand, if the producers can find a way to weave a vast global conspiracy involving the president and the Bosnians in to the season, I'll have nothing but admiration. That's what these ultra-serialized shows need to maintain interest, not a panic about the supporting beams of the wedding tent. The "self-obsessed-20-something-hour" with "Notes From the Underbelly" doesn't really seem like a likely bet to steal viewers from NBC's 18-49-friendly comedies, does it? Nope.
Desire To Watch Again: Low-but-not-nil -- I'd check in again later, just to see how things are going.
Possible Role For Eric Balfour: Nothing obvious, but I'm sure there's something.
Show: "Men in Trees" (ABC - Drama)
The Pitch: "Looking for Love: Bachelorettes in Alaska: The Scripted Series"
Quick Response: In a world in which "Northern Exposure" had never existed, "Men in Trees" might come across as a fresh and original fish-out-of-water series. As it is, it's solidly written by "Sex in the City" alum Jenny Bicks and directed by feature helmer James Mangold, but there's little inspiration. The plot devices required to make us believe that a successful relationship expert (perfectly cast Anne Heche) would decide to drop everything and stay in an Alaskan factory town are clunky and the characters are all very very familiar, enough so that from the first second James Tupper's uber-manly biologist shows up on screen, you want to yell "Luke Danes with an advanced degree!" How long before he and Heche's character hook up? Well, "Northern Exposure" was able to prolong the sexual tension between Fleischman and Maggie for several seasons. Even though nearly every one of them can be directly compared to a "Northern Exposure" character (and, in every instance found lacking), I liked a lot of the supporting characters, including those played by Abraham Benrubi, Derek Richardson and particularly Suleka Mathew, who may become my favorite Alaskan prostitute EVER. Also... John Amos in Alaska? How can you not watch? Simply put, this is one of those examples of formula equaling comfort. Oh and can we start taking bets right now on which "Northern Exposure" veteran will be the first to make a cameo? Personally, I'd really like Cynthia Geary to get some work.
Desire To Watch Again: Moderate, though the "Northern Exposure Without the Brains" conceit will get tired quickly and that Friday night time slot will be a big problem as well.
Possible Role For Eric Balfour: Would Eric Balfour take a role on a show that required him to shoot some place cold and inconvenient? I'm not so sure. There's also not really a part for him in the pilot, but in subsequent episodes? Who knows.
Anybody actually looking forward to one of these two?