May 11, 2011

Tradecraft: NBC Renews Chuck; Fox Cancels Human Target, Retools Exit Strategy

With all the major networks' upfront presentations just around the corner, now's when we start to hear about which new pilots have been picked up to series and which current shows have been cancelled.  Fox got the ball rolling yesterday by announcing that Human Target has been cancelled, which is too bad.  It was a fun, light-weight action hour the likes of which you don't see much on TV these days.  It was somewhat surprising that Exit Strategy, a high-profile pilot from hitmakers Alex Kurtzman and Roberto Orci (whose spy cred includes Alias, Jack of All Trades, Mission: Impossible III and the current reimagining of Hawaii Five-O) starring Ethan Hawke, was not announced as a pickup... yet.  The Hollywood Reporter reports that that pilot may yet find life at the network after being "retooled." The only problem with that plan, according to the trade, is that pilot director Antoine Fuqua is scheduled to shoot a film this summer. Deadline gets more specific about the retooling, adding that "Fox brass felt the pilot had a lot of action and not too much character in it, so they had been looking to shift the focus on the show." Having loved the Mission: Impossible-like premise but read an early version of the pilot script that I found hugely disappointing, the retooling sounds like a good idea.  (To be fair, I hear that Kurtzman and Orci themselves did a pass on the script subsequent to the draft I read, so that may have addressed some of my issues.)  But I'm not sure if that shift in focus is going in the right direction.  In the initial script, the characterizations were by far the worst part.  Hopefully they're re-building them from the ground up, and not just building up what's already there and already bad.  Guess we'll see.  I'm still curious about this show, and still rooting for it to make it to the air just because I think there's a place for a Mission: Impossible type series on network television.

But the big news (and unexpected) is that, according to a Deadline report, NBC has once again renewed the perennially endangered Chuck! I'm glad to hear it, because I thought Chuck had a great season this year, thanks to a Timothy Dalton injection. Still, it suffered ever declining ratings, so the pick-up comes as a bit of a surprise.  Just like last year, the hour-long spy comedy has been given an initial order of just 13 episodes.  If other shows do poorly (as happened this season), more episodes could be ordered.  Unfortunately, that kind of makes it hard for the writers to plot a full season.  That's why so many of this year's plots (including the Dalton thread) were tied up so neatly in a mid-season episode that seemed like a finale.  Then the poor writers had to struggle to stretch them out further when more episodes were called for.

That just leaves the CW's Nikita as far as on-the-bubble spy series go.  After a less than promising start, it turned out to be one of the best new spy series of the season, so I hope it makes the cut. Pilot-wise, I'm also curious about the J.J. Abrams/Jonah Nolan Equalizer-meets-Matt Huston show Person of Interest (a millionaire sponsors a former spy to help the helpless in New York) on NBC and Meet Jane on Lifetime.  Deadline reported last month that Meet Jane was not picked up by the cable network in this round, but may still have life left in it after a retooling of its own.  I suspect we'll hear very soon about Person of Interest, since NBC has already started announcing pick-ups.  Fortunately, my favorite spy pilot script of the season, Missing, already has a 13-episode order from ABC and is currently shooting in Europe.

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