It's pilot season in the US. The time of year where the networks finance and film the best (well, most marketable) pilot scripts that grabbed their attention, with the hope of a few being strong enough to warrant a series commitment for 2011/12. Many will be so heinous they'll never air; some will impress execs enough that they'll go to series, only to be axed amidst low ratings; a handful may be lucky enough to last a whole season on-air; and a few may even be popular with audiences and justify a second season. Well, you never know! Below is a list of 20 pilots that have my interest right now, based solely on their premise or the talent involved. Obviously, it's unfair to judge these pilots before we've seen them, but this is intended to be a quick overview of the positive and negative buzz surrounding them right now. In alphabetical order: 17th PRECINCT (NBC) Cop show set in a parallel universe where magic dominates science, described as "Harry Potter for grown-ups." Stars Jamie Bamber, James Callis & Trifica Helfer (Battlestar Galactica), with Esai Morales (Caprica), Kristin Kreuk (Smallville) & Stockard Channing (Grease.) Created by Ronald D. Moore (Star Trek DS9, Battlestar Galactica.) Optimism: Over the years spent running BSG, Moore proved he's adept at world-building and handling ensembles; the cast are talented, recognizable faces that will draw a healthy genre crowd; the basic premise sounds very intriguing. Pessimism: The premise could go the way of The Dresden Files; and there may be some residual mistrust of buying into Moore's show because of BSG's divisive conclusion. ALCATRAZ (Fox) Mystery action drama about a group of prisoners who mysteriously vanished from Alcatraz 50 years ago, only to reappear in the present day, where they're hunted by the FBI. Stars Sarah Jones (Sons Of Anarchy), Sam Neill (Jurassic Park), Jorge Garcia (Lost), Robert Forster (Jackie Brown), Parminder Nagra (ER) & Santiago Cabrera (Heroes.) Created by JJ Abrams (Mission: Impossible III), Bryan Burk (Super 8) & Elizabeth Sarnoff (Lost.) Optimism: Between them, the creators have worked on some of the most notable TV shows and movies of the past decade (Alias, Lost, Fringe, Cloverfield, Star Trek), so there's little doubt this will be a slick, assured production; the cast are a strong mix of rising stars, geek-bait, and assured old-hands; the premise alone should guarantee a barnstorming pilot. Pessimism: The ideas sounds best-suited to a movie when you hear it, making me wonder how the story's going to avoid becoming an extended Prison Break-style manhunt; it will need to throw some unexpected curveballs to keep audiences engaged after the pilot; the flop of Abrams' Undercovers last season showed not everything he touches turns to gold, so fans will be more cautious about embracing it. AWAKENING (CW) Two sister find themselves caught in the middle of a very different zombie apocalypse, where the living dead are able to lead relatively normal lives. Stars Lucy Griffiths (Robin Hood), Meredith Hagner (Lights Out), Brian Hallisay (Privileged) & Titus Welliver (The Good Wife.) Written by William Laurin & Glenn Davis (The Listener.) Optimism: The CW found success in the teen horror genre with The Vampire Diaries, so if Awakening successfully merges The Walking Dead with the wit of Buffy, it could be onto a winner; I enjoyed Lucy Griffiths' performance as Maid Marian in the BBC's recent Robin Hood series. Pessimism: This was almost definitely greenlit because of The Waking Dead's phenomenal success on AMC last year, but it looks like it'll be taking a totally different approach. But are your typical zombie fans going to enjoy a series with a decidedly more feminine spin? CHARLIE'S ANGELS (ABC) Remake of the classic '70s action-adventure series about three tough, attractive young women (Minka Kelly, Rachael Taylor, Annie Ilonzek) who are hired by a faceless millionaire called "Charlie" (Robert Wagner) to fight crime in Miami. Developed by Miles Millar & Al Gough (Smallville.) Optimism: The idea has proven its generational endurance after two successful early-'00s movies, and it makes sense to have the series return to its small-screen roots. Nikita proved there's still an appetite for gorgeous ass-kicking women on TV; the casting looks solid, particularly the masterstroke of getting Hart To Hart's Wagner to voice Charlie; and Millar/Gough know how to keep stories flowing, after 10 seasons of Smallville. Pessimism: Do we really care about Charlie's Angels now? A trio of leggy beauties will draw eyeballs, but what's going to hook us into watching them every week? Will women find the leads inspiring role models, or hotties that pander to teenaged boys? EXIT STRATEGY (Fox)Series about a team of experts who help the CIA with dangerous extractions. Stars Ethan Hawke (Gattaca), Tom Sizemore (Saving Private Ryan) & Megan Dodos. The pilot is directed by Antoine Fuqua (Training Day.) Optimism: Ethan Hawke's dependable in roles like this, and an ongoing action series that reads like a Tony Scott movie could be fun. Fuqua should deliver a glossy first episode, at the very least. Pessimism: Will the cast have chemistry? Um, there's not much else negative swimming around my head, so we'll have to wait for more details to emerge. GRIMM (NBC) Cop show set in a universe where characters from the Brothers Grimm fairy tales exist, but only a detective (David Giuntoli) can see them. Co-stars Kate Burton (127 Hours), Bitsie Tullock & Sasha Roiz (Caprica.) Created by Jim Kouf (Angel) & David Greenwalt (Buffy The Vampire Slayer.) Optimism: The premise sounds diverting enough, with the potential for some fun updates of fairy tale characters and tropes. Pessimism: How long before Grimm runs out of fairy tale characters to update, or the gimmick begins to feel tedious? The cast don't inspire much confidence, on paper. Fun updates of classic characters reminds me of Percy Jackson's handling of the Greek myths. HALLELUJAH (ABC) A small town in Tennessee is being torn apart by the forces of Good and Evil, until a stranger arrives promising peace and prosperity. Stars Donal Logue (Terriers), Terry O'Quinn (Lost), Jesse L. Martin (Law & Order), Arielle Kebbel (Life Unexpected) & Frances O'Connor (AI: Artificial Intelligence.) Created by Marc Cherry (Desperate Housewives.) Optimism: I'm a sucker for stories about weird towns and grandiose battles where Good and Evil are capitalized. Donal Logue is canny casting, but the icing on the cake is getting the estimable talent of O'Quinn involved in this. Pessimism: Can the brains behind frothy suburban soap Desperate Housewives deliver the goods with a fantasy series? LOCKE & KEY (Fox) Adaptation of the graphic novel about a mother (Lord Of The Rings' Miranda Otto) who returns to her recently-murdered husband's residence "Keyhouse" in Massachussetts, with her three children in tow, where they're pestered by an evil entity. Co-stars Nick Stahl (Terminator 3), Sarah Bolger (The Tudors) & Jesse McCartney (Greek.) Developed by Alex Kurtzman & Robert Orci (Fringe) with the comic-book's creator Joe Hill. Optimism: I haven't read the comic myself, but friends assure me it's is sheer brilliance; the writers know their genre after years working on Fringe, and also have the support of the comic's creator himself. Similar to how The Walking Dead's creator Robert Kirkman was brought aboard by Frank Darabont. Pessimism: Kurtzman and Orci also worked on the execrable Transformers movies; I'm worried that anything based on literature demands an ending, whereas TV desires an open-ended format to keep things going for 5 years or more. Is that feasible with this idea? ONCE UPON A TIME (ABC) A young boy (Mad Men's Jared Gilmore) discovers a strange town called Storybrook, where fairy tales are real and the townsfolk are under the spell of an Evil Queen (Lana Parrilla.) Co-stars Robert Carlyle (Trainspotting) as Rumpelstiltskin, Josh Dallas (Thor) & Jennifer Morrison (House.) Created by Edward Kitsis & Adam Horowitz (Lost, Tron Legacy.) Optimism: It sounds like a cute idea that the whole family could sit down and enjoy together, while it'll be interesting to see if Mad Men's Bobby Draper can handle a leading role! Pessimism: Um, can Mad Men's Bobby Draper handle a leading role? This also sounds similar to Grimm's pilot, so could run into trouble if it's not the best "fairy tale" show on the airwaves. PAN AM (ABC) Glamorous soap set in the world of air travel during the 1960s. Stars Christian Ricci (Sleepy Hollow), Margot Robie (Neighbours), Michael Mosley (Scrubs), Kelli Garner (Lars & The Real Girl), Karine Vanasse & Jonah Lotan. Optimism: This is one of a few network shows inspired by Mad Men's success on cable this year, and the idea of setting a sexy soap in the Jet Age has undeniable appeal. If it can capture some of Mad Men's verve with plot and character, this could be a fantastic airborne drama. Pessimism: There are no big names to help this show (does Ricci have any swap with viewers?) so it'll need to soar high and early, to earn audience loyalty. PERSON OF INTEREST (CBS) A CIA agent who's presumed dead (Passion Of The Christ's Jim Caviezel) is hired by a reclusive New York billionaire (Lost's Michael Emerson) to thwart the activities of violent criminals. Co-stars Kevin Chapman (Brotherhood.) Co-written by Jonah Nolan (The Dark Knight), JJ Abrams (Star Trek) & Bryan Burk (Lost.) Optimism: Michael Emerson is a compelling actor who did fine work on Lost, so many will be tuning on just because of his presence; and the creators are partly responsible for Lost and The Dark Knight, which certainly earns them my attention. Pessimism: The premise sounds uninspired, so it'll need strong treatment to rise above it; Caviezel's a dull presence whose performance killed The Prisoner remake; and will Emerson's quirky talents be utilized well in this role? I'd rather see HIM out in the field stopping crimes. PLAYBOY (NBC) Drama focusing on the lives of the Chicago's Playboy Club's bunnies in 1963, particularly new recruit Maureen (Drive Angry's Amber Heard.) Co-stars Naturi Naughton (Fame), Eddie Cibrian (Third Watch) & David Krumholtz (Harold & Kumar.) Pilot directed by Alan Taylor (Mad Men) from a script by Chad Hodge. Optimism: Like Pan Am, this projects appears to have been developed because of Mad Men's critical success on AMC, and there's certainly inherent interest in the Playboy phenomenon with a '60s context. Oh, it also appears to promise Amber Heard wearing fishnets and bunny ears. Pessimism: Given the fact co-star Naturi Naughton played a black Playboy bunny girl in an episode of Mad Men, this entire pilot already feels like an unofficial spin-off. Or rip-off.
POE (ABC) Detective drama with author Edgar Allan Poe (Home & Away's Christopher Egan) as the world's first sleuth operating in Boston of the 1840s, partnered with a woman called Celeste (The Tudors' Natalie Dormer.) Co-stars Kevin McNally (Pirates Of The Caribbean), Tabrett Bethell (Legend Of The Seeker) & Leslie Odom (CSI Miami.) Optimism: I guess Poe's 19th-century setting and blending of historical fact could be fun. An American Sherlock Holmes in the making? Pessimism: It could be as dumb as it sounds. Why involve Poe, and instead just create a new character? And there are no big actors to draw crowds, so will probably rely on word-of-mouth. PRIME SUSPECT (NBC) Remake of the long-running British crime drama about an iconoclastic female police officer. Stars Maria Bello (A History Of Violence), Aidan Quinn (Third Watch), Kirk Acevedo (Fringe) & Brian O'Byrne (FlashForward.) Optimism: There are already 20 years that prove this concept has legs and the potential to become an Emmy-winning hit, and the concept of a high-ranking female in the "man's world" of law enforcement still has cachet in 2011. Pessimism: Maria Bello's an inconsistent actress, but she's definitely no Helen Mirren; and the original aired irregular feature-length specials over two decades, so will the concept go stale very quickly in the American system? REM (NBC) Sci-fi drama about a detective (Black Hawk Down's Jason Isaacs) who finds himself living in two very different realities after a car accident; one where his son (Lost's Dylan Minnette) is dead, and one where his wife's dead. Co-stars Wilmer Valderrama (Yo Momma) & Steve Harris (The Practice.) Created by Kyle Killen (Lone Star.) Optimism: It has a high-concept premise that grabs your attention, with plenty of opportunity for poignant drama; Jason Isaacs is a fine dramatic presence; and Dylan Minnette was great in a small recurring role on Lost last season. Pessimism: It's just Life On Mars with an alternate universe instead of time travel, right? It sounds very depressing, whatever reality we're in! RINGER (CBS) A woman on the run from the mob (Buffy's Sarah Michelle Gellar) assumes the identity of her missing,. estranged twin sister. Co-stars Nestor Carbonell (Lost), Ioan Gruffud (The Fantastic Four) & Kristoffer Polaha (Life Unexpected.) Optimism: It's about time SMG made a return to television, don't you think? There's certainly some mystery and potential in the premise. Nestor Carbonell should be great, as always. Pessimism: How long can they keep this story going? SECRET CIRCLE (CW) Adaptation of author L.J Smith's books about a Californian teenager who moves to a new town, where she discovers she's a witch. Stars Britt Robertson (Swingtown) & Thomas Dekker (Sarah Connor Chronicles.) Produced by Kevin Williamson (Scream, The Vampire Diaries.) Optimism: The Vampire Diaries shows that audiences enjoy Smith's worldview and approach to young characters; the presence of Diaries' own Williamson should ensure some quality and fast-paced plots. Pessimism: The premise sounds like formulaic, clichéd hogwash. SMASH (NBC)Series about a group of people putting on a Broadway musical based on Marilyn Monroe. Stars Debra Messing (Will & Grace), Jack Davenport (Pirates Of The Caribbean), Katharine McPhee & Anjelica Huston (Addam's Family.) Co-produced by Steven Spielberg. Optimism: Steven Spielberg's involvement still inspires a degree of confidence, if only because the idea and script earned his blessing; this certainly sounds like something different; and the cast are an intriguing mixture of actors. Pessimism: I'm not 100% sure if audiences care about behind-the-scenes shows like this, or how long that premise can go. A different musical every season? TOUCH (Fox) A father (24's Kiefer Sutherland) realizes his mute, autistic son has the ability to predict future events. It's created by Tim Kring (Heroes.) Optimism: Kiefer Sutherland's going to lure many people towards this pilot, and will hopefully do something a world away from Jack Bauer. Tim Kring created smash-hit Heroes. Pessimism: The premise is so unimaginative it's hard to see why this deserved to be anything beyond an hour-long episode of an anthology series -- or, at best, a movie like Knowing. Also, Tim Kring sent Heroes to a premature grave after a three-year death rattle. WONDER WOMAN (NBC)TV adaptation of the eponymous comic-book super-heroine (Friday Night Lights' Adrianne Palicki), re-imagined as a successful corporate executive and trying to balance work with her social life. Co-stars Elizabeth Hurley (Austin Powers), Cary Elwes (Saw) & Justin Bruening (Knight Rider.) Developed by David E. Kelley (Ally McBeal.) Optimism: After years stuck in development hell as a movie, I think Wonder Woman stands a better chance on TV than she ever did at the cinema. Adrianne Palicki is near-perfect casting as the eponymous heroine. Pessimism: This has been developed by David E. Kelly, who writes mind-numbing chick-friendly TV shows, and early reviews of his pilot script has been universally negative; the costume is traditional looking (if less patriotic), but potentially a laughable mistake on-screen; and this co-stars the inexpressive Elizabeth Hurley as a major villain.