[How many times must I tell you?!?!? 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: "The Nine"
The Pitch: This one may actually be sui generis
Quick Response: While other people fell in love with the concept -- a 52-hour standoff in a bank brings nine strangers together -- I did not. I was skeptical, in fact, until I saw CHI MCBRIDE WITH HAIR. That was it. I was sold. Seriously, this goes up there with NBC's "Friday Night Lights" on my list of the best pilots of the year. I can't praise pilot director Alex Graves' work here enough. In 44 minutes, he has to introduce at least a dozen characters, provide hints into at least nine backstories, work in multiple time frames and skip from location to location, all while generating suspense in the present and leaving enough dangling threads to fuel future seasons. I'm not sure exactly how many questions are unanswered at the end of the pilot, but it may be nearly as many as were left hovering after the J.J. Abrams-directed pilot for "Lost." The lives of the characters going forward are intriguing enough, but there are many clues from the botched heist that will probably pay off for a long time to come. Of the cast members, my admiration for Chi McBride goes without saying. The respect I gained for Tim Daly during the all-too-short run of "Eyes" carries over here with the shocking revelation (a revelation I didn't have during "The Fugitive") that the star of "Diner" and "Wings" has become a man of some authority, mixed with wry wit. Kim Raver is pretty good. Scott Wolf ain't bad (in small doses, so they may want to keep an eye on his exposure). Camille Guaty is smoking. Yup. I'm into this one. I'm not a huge "Without a Trace" fan (I can go months without watching it and never miss it), but I've always respected it far more than CBS' other procedurals, so I have some faith in "The Nine" creator Hank Steinberg as well.
Desire To Watch Again: Strong
Possible Role For Eric Balfour: Probably Balfour could play the Owain Yeoman part as the somewhat guilty criminal, but that's about it.
Show: "Six Degrees"
The Pitch: "We love you J.J. Oh yes we do. We love you J.J. And we'll be true. When you're not near us, we're blue. Oh J.J. we love you."
Quick Response: So, you put J.J. Abrams' name on a pilot call sheet and you can apparently get a pilot cast that includes Hope Davis, Erika Christensen, Bridget Moynahan, Jay Hernandez and Campbell Scott (the other "degree" is Dorian Missick, who I don't recognize, but who was really good in the pilot). And once you get those names in a pilot, plus J.J. Abrams' name attached to a pilot, it's almost impossible for a network to say no, particularly if ABC and Touchstone TV want to stay in business with J.J. and Bad Robot. The problem? "Six Degrees" isn't a very good pilot. In fact, certainly degrees -- anything involving the comely Christensen and Moynahan in particular -- are just awful. On the other hand, if you just put Scott and Davis together and made "The Secret Lives of Dentists: The Movie," that would make for worthwhile TV. And it isn't just the toplining cast that's phenomenal here. If memory serves me correctly, this pilot had guest-starring appearances by Jonathan Cake, Brian Stokes Mitchell and Sarah Vowell. That's not a bad way to round out your cast, particularly if your script is just a jumble of strung-out characters and contrived situations bound together by a banal voiceover. Oh, and I was interested to note that Missick's character, like Tim Daly's in "The Nine," has a gambling problem. Coming so soon after the anti-drunk driving public service announcement put out by the good people of "Lost," it's nice to see ABC going off into different public service announcement territory.
Desire To Watch Again: Moderate -- as bad as this pilot is, the case will bring me back at least one, particularly given the time slot.
Possible Role For Eric Balfour: Balfour certainly *could* play the Jay Hernandez part. However, in the interest of both diversity and quality, I'd prefer he not.
Show: "Help Me Help You"
Quick Response: I'm not sure, but is this film's title mostly a seven-years-too-late "Jerry Maguire" reference? If this weren't a single-camera show, it would feel like a dull, old multi-camera ensemble sitcom from 1988, something a lot like, say, "Dear John," which I'm not just saying because both shows have Jere Burns. Heck, I laughed more at Jere Burns than at anything else in this not-entirely-unfunny, but not-entirely-engaging show. This one goes with the likes of "Til Death" and "20 Good Years" in the category of "Shows that made me chuckle because I like people in them, but not because anything the writers wrote was all that funny or original." So yes, like Brad Garrett or Jeffrey Tambor or John Lithgow, Ted Danson is a pro. But the gimmick of a doctor who's every bit as screwed up as his patients just isn't going to bring me back unless it's got an unexpected angle. Interestingly, the decision to employ Thomas "Biff" Wilson almost counts as an unexpected angle. The producers should offer to pay Jane Kaczmarek, only a guest star in the pilot, whatever it will take to make her a regular, even if that means that there's no money leftover to pay Jim Rash and Darlene Hunt. I have no problems with Rash and Hunt as actors, but their characters -- gay guy who denies he's gay and crazy woman who confuses sex with intimacy -- aren't going to be worth the trouble.
Desire To Watch Again: Low -- facing "House," it doesn't really stand a chance for me.
Possible Role For Eric Balfour: You know, I may have tired of this game. If Eric Balfour's agents can't find him a pilot gig, they're just not trying hard enough.
And what are you looking forward to here?