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The desperation of TV-pilot season: Enter Robin Williams?

One recent evening, all aglow on a tincture of dry sherry, I sat down at the computer to research the landscape of what is known as pilot season. And I am still recovering.

This is the glorious time of the year when broadcasters and studios cast an eye over all the ideas and proposals that have been put forth by legions of writers and producers, and decide to spend money on the making of a pilot episode for a possible new series. It is a time of great hope, and, in many cases, hilarity.

In this neck of the woods, there is already excitement – at least in certain pockets of hoity-toity Toronna – about the news that Conrad Black, the famous bellicosity-denier, will have a chat show on ZoomerMedia's Vision TV. But where to schedule it on Vision? Before or after Absolutely Fabulous, for a crackerjack prime time of demented entertainment? Could Vision organize a crossover episode with Downton Abbey? One can see Black chewing the cud with Dowager Countess Violet Crawley (Maggie Smith), and hence the excitement in certain circles, no doubt.

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It's the U.S. networks that garner the attention, though. And boggle the mind. All that money, all those holes in the schedule to fill. Honestly, one looks over the list of potential shows and wonders if somebody is pulling your leg. Having a laugh. Get this, the synopsis for the possible ABC comedy Bad Company: "A slightly self-centered female boss at a high-end luxury goods department store finds her ways challenged when the boss's son comes to town and makes youth and sex the new company focus." Hello? Only "slightly" self-centered? Dear heavens, the nuance. Call me crazy but "totally self-centered" sounds better and funnier.

The usual concepts are floated, of course. Maverick cops run amok. Maverick surgeons. Maverick lawyers. Somewhere on the list of dozens of pilots I expected to find one about a maverick maître d' with unusual management solutions for restaurants, bars and hotels.

I didn't. What I did find, while in search of a theme, were the names Robin Williams, Eddie Murphy and James Caan. It has come to this – in desperate need of new shows and star power, a bunch of old-timers are being brought back.

Williams is in a pilot for CBS called Crazy Ones, described as a "single-camera workplace comedy that revolves around a father-daughter relationship at home and at work." And this is actually good news. Williams is funny in any circumstances, and given the dearth of good comedy these days, he is welcome to come back.

As for Eddie Murphy, the project is a puzzler. CBS is looking at a series that will act as a sequel to the movie Beverly Hills Cop. It comes from Shawn Ryan (The Shield) and is described as, "a continuation of the iconic Beverly Hills Cop universe as Axel Foley's blue-collar police-officer son, Aaron, helps take down the criminal elements of the rich and famous, while simultaneously trying to escape the shadow of his larger-than-life father." Apparently, Murphy will appear in the pilot and will be a recurring character if the series is picked up.

It's hard to believe that with all the talent available and all the permutations on the cop genre that are possible, CBS is regurgitating the Beverly Hills Cop premise. I mean, the "maverick cop" thing is understandable, but a maverick cop from decades ago?

James Caan, who has appeared, mostly, in dramas (Las Vegas, Magic City), is in a comedy pilot. It has no title yet, but the gist is this: "The multi-generational family comedy, from 20th Century Fox TV, centres on Terry Gannon, a recently divorced single mother who temporarily moves in with her estranged father (Caan), a beer-swilling former baseball player. She reluctantly starts coaching her son Tommy's underdog Little League team and is drawn back into the world of sports she vowed to leave behind." Oh dear, oh dear.

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Looking at the pilot list, it is, is fact, difficult to figure out which ones to highlight for the absurdity of the synopsis. But try Killer Women, from ABC: "It's hard to fit in when you're the only woman in the notoriously male Texas Rangers, but that doesn't stop Molly Parker – our ballsy, beautiful badass who knows how to get to the truth and isn't afraid to ruffle a few feathers on her way there. Based on the Argentine series Mujeres Asesinas." I regret to inform Canada that the show is about a character named Molly Parker, not the distinguished Canadian thespian Molly Parker.

I could go on, but I won't. I'm no longer aglow.

Airing tonight

CSI: Crime Scene Investigation (CBS, CTV, 9 p.m.) is a crossover with CSI: NY. The latter's Mac Taylor (Gary Sinise) goes to Vegas and helps as D.B. Russell (Ted Danson) looks into the case of a body found inside a wine barrel. Perhaps a maverick maître d' is on the loose?

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About the Author
Television critic

John Doyle is The Globe and Mail's television critic. His column appears in the Review section Monday to Thursday and on Saturday. He has been the paper's critic since 2000. More

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