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As of this writing, 49 (er, 50 now with "Love Monkey" getting picked up by CBS) new scripted series will debut during the 2005-06 season on the six major broadcast networks. Those 49 projects were culled from the 120 or so pilots shot during the past development season. So what happens to those 70 or so pilots that didn't get picked up? Most likely nothing at all. A few like NBC's "noTORIous" and FOX's "Windfall" found homes elsewhere (VH1 and NBC respectively) while others may get a midseason order later this year. The overwhelming majority however will simply collect dust on their respective studio's shelves.
So are there any hidden gems that are being stored away? We've been lucky enough to get our hands on a couple of the pilots that didn't make the cut and will review one each day until our stock runs out (which unfortunately will be sooner rather than later).
As always there's no particular order here, just whatever's next on the stack of tapes. So without further ado, here's today's entry:
EARLY BIRD (NBC)
(half-hour single-camera comedy)
The network's description: NBC did not release an official description of the series.
What's its current status: Despite a flurry of pilots in the works at NBC for midseason consideration, "Early Bird" apparently is not among them.
The plot in a nutshell: 27-year-old Ethan Summers (Timm Sharp) had his dream job - he was a writer at "Saturday Night Live." But he blew it. Left with no other options, he's considering working for his father - where he'll start at the very bottom, literally. All that's left between now and then is to fly to Florida to sell his recently-deceased grandfather's condo at a retirement community. Accompanied by his best friend Bart (fellow "Undeclared" alum Seth Rogen), it's not long before they stumble upon a host of problems, including the local busybody Harold (the great Bill Macy) who also serves as the community's C.O.P. (Civilian on Patrol). Not wanting to waste his time hanging around old people, Bart bails leaving Ethan to his own devices. And sure enough, selling the condo proves to be quite the battle as not only has he lost the key but the only agent in town (Renee Taylor) is impossible to track down. But help comes in the unlikely form of Harold, who along with his "gang" - the pill-obsessed Lenny (Larry Hankin) and the diet-obsessed Hector (Luis Avalos) - gives Ethan the lay of the land. It seems that being old is just like being back in high school, complete with all the usual cliques with Harold and co. being the misfits, regularly draw the ire of the jocks (led by Robert Culp). After witnessing their latest razzing, Ethan offers to help them beat the jocks at softball in exchange for helping him sell the condo - a promise he quickly regrets. A brief trip to the hospital later, Ethan decides to try life at the retirement community for a while in order to figure out his next step.
What works: Going into the show blindly, one might expect the humor to be in the vein of "gee, aren't old people hilarious when they do young people things" a la the rapping granny from "The Wedding Singer." Surprisingly it's not, as all the producers/actors opt to play it straight, adding only a few quirky elements (most notably the pill and diet obsessions of Lenny and Hector respectively). There's also a fun parallel between Sharp and Macy's characters, as Harold appears to be as big of a failure as Ethan, having retired from his lackluster job as a brassiere salesman and being recently dumped by his wife (Taylor). Their back-and-forth is the best part of the show. The single-camera "Bernie Mac"/"Scrubs"/etc. aspect also works quite well, as I can't imagine the show maintaining its sweet, offbeat tone as a laugh-track jolted sitcom.
What doesn't: I have to confess the premise is a rather hard sell as even other characters mention Ethan could just as easily have sold the condo online or through a third party locally. Nevertheless, once you look past that, the real hook - Ethan's decision to stay - actually does work in spite of the hokey way it gets there. A lot of the credit goes to Sharp, who does a great job of selling his character's frustrated, lost nature without seeming spoiled or bratty. He literally doesn't know what to do and Harold's offer of friendship is the best option he has. Overall, this is definitely I show I'd check out on a weekly basis.
Should you be sad it wasn't picked up: Considering the pickups of "Thick & Thin" and "Four Kings," it borders on criminal that "Early Bird" wasn't picked up instead. Putting aside the "when's the last time there's been a show on TV about old people" aspect, "Bird" (much like "My Name Is Earl") offered up a rare, unique voice - one that today's TV landscape could have definitely used.