The True Stories of How 14 2014 Freshman Shows Were Pitched

Cuz this seems like something we all should know:


by Lesley Goldberg & Bryn Elise Sandberg

Another year, another batch of potential breakouts looking to lure the mix of viewers and buzz that NBC’s The Blacklist generated a season earlier. Garnering early attention among the 2014-15 season’s two dozen new offerings is the Shonda Rhimes-producedHow to Get Away With Murder (ABC), telenovelaJane the Virgin (The CW) and genre plays Gotham(Fox) and The Flash (The CW).

There are recognizable works — ­comic adaptations, romantic comedies and, in the case of ABC, diversity — and a new cadre of film stars, led by Viola Davis(Murder) and Octavia Spencer (Red Band Society) making the leap to TV. “I’ve never been the show before and with this, I was the show … what was there to refuse?” Davis says of TV’s appeal.

But if history is any indication, stars don’t guarantee viewers — and second-season renewals are hard to come by. Not that cancellation scars have stopped talent from attempting new hits — the fastest rebounder of late being Dylan McDermott, who is returning to CBS with psychological thriller Stalker only a few months after the same network axed his 2013 starrer Hostages.

The Hollywood Reporter quizzed the producers behind several of the new fall offerings to find out how they pitched their series — as well as the stories behind the show titles and how they netted their stars.

Kenya Barris, Black-ish (ABC)

My daughter was trying to describe a kid in her class to me and she’s going on and on, and finally I had to stop her and say, “Are you talking about the only other little black girl in your class?” And she was like, “Oh yeah, I guess so,” and I was like, “Well why didn’t you just say that?” She was like, “I don’t know.” I looked at my wife and she was like, “Isn’t that beautiful? She doesn’t see color!” And I was like, “No, that’s ridiculous.” It was the moment when I realized that they were growing up in a totally different world, for better or for worse, than I had, and it was the impetus for this show. That’s how we kicked the pitch off.

Brian Gallivan, The McCarthys (CBS)

Even though The McCarthys is only loosely inspired by my family, a lot of real stories about the Gallivans were part of my pitch. I told one about coming out to my brother John and his wife, Debbie. At the time, they had baby twins, and John and Debbie were sleep-deprived and totally overwhelmed by being new parents. When I said I was gay, my brother, who had a baby crawling all over him, said, “Sometimes I wish I was gay.” His exhausted wife added, “I wish you were every day of my life.” Even though the pitch also included descriptions of the McCarthy characters and storylines, my family started to think it was just me telling crazy stories about them at every network. They started thinking that any one of them could go to Hollywood and pitch a show. I expect them to arrive here any day.

Matt Miller, Forever (ABC)

I came up with the idea when I was putting my 5-year-old son to bed, and he asked me, “Daddy, are you ever going to die someday?” I didn’t want to upset him so I said, “I’ll never die, don’t worry.” Then I thought about how you’re supposed to build trust through honesty and all that stuff, so I said, “I wasn’t completely honest with you. I will die someday, but it won’t be for a long time and by then you’ll probably want me to be dead,” at which point he burst into tears. I started kicking around the idea: What if a character wouldn’t or couldn’t die, and the amazing things that you could do with eternity? But then what if his son wasn’t immortal? Would the pain of watching him grow old and die be too difficult to bear? I started to play with this idea of the thing that we all want most in the world, immortality, being a little bit more of a curse than a blessing.

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