This damn list gets harder to put together each year.
When I wrote the first one in 2013, I basically glanced at the development pipelines for a handful of big-time cable networks, picked the most intriguing options, and pushed the button that sent words through the series of tubes into your laptops and mobile devices. FX and HBO were the only essential representatives. Netflix’s original content library housed just two series (House of Cards and something called Hemlock Grove); Amazon only one (Bosch). Other premium cable outlets were either content with their existing programming or still running jailhouse orgies on Sunday nights.
Contrast this with today’s ecosystem. Basic cable networks such as Lifetime, so easy to ignore just a few short years ago, now merits inclusion. Non-traditional outlets have entered the fray. Video game companies produce and distribute exclusive content. The number of content providers has grown so large and so diverse it’s nearly impossible to ensure you haven’t missed anything. Shit, did I check to see if FitBit has a series debuting next year?
Annual disclaimer: in order to make the cut a show must be at the pilot stage or picked up for a full series order, not just languishing in the development pipeline. Also, forecasting pilot pickups and premiere dates is an inexact science. Many of the shows on last year’s list like Taboo and The OA are locked into FX’s and Netflix’s calendars, respectively. When you’ll actually see them remains, uh, to be seen. Finally, I intentionally omitted a few big guns covered elsewhere at length. American Gods and Noah Hawley’s Legion aren’t exactly state secrets around these parts and I don’t want to clutter an already long guide with unnecessary filler.
The Terror (AMC)
It’s rare that passed-over properties receive a second chance at the same network. But AMC, which commissioned an adaptation of the Dan Simmons novel back in 2013 before declining the pilot option last year, announced in March that the network would in fact move forward with The Terror as an anthology series. Having read the novel — a fictionalized retelling of the 1847 HMS Erebus and HMS Terror expedition, where an unknown predator stalks the dwindling crew after they’re stranded in the frozen Northwest Passage — I have absolutely no idea how showrunners David Kajganich and Soo Hugh will turn the source material into an anthology. Sure as hell willing to find out, though.
Chances it gets picked up to series: 10 episodes coming your way next year
Odd setup here. Trust is a limited series exploring the rise of an oil magnate in the mid-1970s. Simple, right? Except the 10-episode season is being billed as the first installment, leading one to believe there’s room for more story if ratings/critical response permits. Trust focuses on John Paul Getty, the heir to the family fortune who’s kidnapped by the Italian mafia and left to rot after his drug-addled father and playboy grandfather show little interest in retrieving their snatched progeny. Danny Boyle (28 Days Later, Sunshine, countless other movies with third-act problems) will direct from a script by Simon Beaufoy.
Chances it gets picked up to series: You’ll be able to see all 10 episodes. Trust me. See what I did there? Trust is the name of the show, and I just asked you to trust my judgment becau— /Dustin gives sniper the green light
The Deuce (HBO)
Imagine a fantasy television talent draft where you can pick anyone to create, develop, direct, and star in a series about a subject of your choosing. For the subject, we’ll go with the burgeoning, dangerous New York City porn scene in the 1970s. Ok, let’s see: I’ll grab David Simon, the guy behind The Wire, Treme, and Show Me a Hero, as my first-round writing pick. Simon reps his crew on every project, which means I get George Pelecanos and Richard Price to help write and executive produce. Now, I need to find a director. Michelle MacLaren, the brilliant Breaking Bad/Game of Thrones/Leftovers vet, will do nicely. Just need to shore up casting and SHIT I SPENT ALL MY HIGH DRAFT PICKS ON BEHIND-THE-CAMERA TALENT AND NOW ALL THAT’S LEFT IS JAMES FRANCO! Fine, I’ll take him to play twins who become fronts for the mob. At least Maggie Gyllenhaal is still available take the lead female role.
Chances it gets picked up to series: Roughly the same as you watching porn sometime between now and when the series debuts in 2017.
Sharp Objects (HBO)
HBO desperately wants to be in the Gillian Flynn business. The premium cable giant tapped the Gone Girl writer to pen David Fincher’s reboot of the fantastic British series, Utopia. Fiscal concerns grounded that project before it got off the ground, but she stuck around to co-write and executive produce an adaptation of her debut novel, Sharp Objects. The series follows a young journalist recently released from a psychiatric hospital who returns to her hometown to cover the murder of a preteen girl and the disappearance of another. Amy Adams plays the aforementioned reporter with Dallas Buyers Club and Wild director Jean-Marc Vallée onboard to direct all eight episodes. Sharp Objects is actually the first of two HBO miniseries adapted from bestsellers set to premiere next year that Vallée will direct. He’s also heading up Little Big Lies, a dark comedy starring Nicole Kidman and Alexander Skarrrrrrrrrrrrsgårrrrrrrrrrd based on the novel by Liane Moriarty.
Chances it gets picked up to series: Eight eps in 2017
A few years ago, Anchorman director Adam McKay would seem like an odd choice to spearhead a dramatic series about a powerful, dysfunctional media family in the 21st century. The guy behind the Will Ferrell NASCAR movie wants to explore international media and interfamilial power dynamics? Does Uwe Boll not have a slave rebellion script we can option instead? Then The Big Short got five Oscar nominations and won for Best Adapted Screenplay and suddenly, HBO became much more interested.
Chances it gets picked up to series: Succession and the Kathryn Bigelow project Mogadishu, Minnesota (about a family who grapples with what it means to be American among the Somalis of the Twin Cities) represent the first pilot orders for new HBO programming chief Casey Bloys. Stands to reason he’d like to see his opening draft picks make the roster. 70 percent.
Capitol Hill (HBO)
One David Simon show at a time please, said a man who was immediately stuffed into a circus cannon and fired into low-earth orbit. Baltimore’s most famous shiny-headed former newspaper man teamed with Carl Bernstein (the man responsible for our lazy present-day media attaching the “gate” suffix to every non-story, even though WATERGATE WAS THE NAME OF THE FUCKING HOTEL, YOU GODDAMN MORONS!) for this pilot about modern-day politics. HBO describes the series as “a detailed examination of partisanship and the influence of money on national governance.” I can think of no one better to spotlight this incestuous relationship than Simon and Bernstein.
Chances it gets picked up to series: Simon is arguably HBO’s favored son. He’s responsible for The Corner, The Wire, Generation Kill, Show Me a Hero, Treme, and the forthcoming The Deuce. Have to believe that track record grants him a blank check. 90 percent.
I’m Dying Up Here (Showtime)
Technically a dark comedy, the synopsis for this Showtime series from Jim Carrey sounds like it has far more in common with the dramas on this list than, say, Archer. Set in the 1970s Los Angeles stand-up scene, I’m Dying Up Here explores the brutal business of making an audience laugh. Melissa Leo, Clark Duke, and Ari Graynor play the leads, and Sebastian Stan appears in a recurring role, which I hope is nothing more than him flopping onstage as the Winter Solider once a week. “I just flew in from Stark tower and boy is my indestructible vibrainium arm tired. Guess I should have flown Captain American Airlines instead. Jeez, I haven’t bombed this hard in front of a crowd since I murdered Black Panther’s dad.”
Chances it gets picked up to series: Showtime ordered the pilot to series back in April.
Hello, white America. Would you be interested in a miniseries starring Idris Elba, written by the guy behind 12 Years a Slave, about a 1970s London couple who liberates a political prisoner then forms a radical underground cell to wipe out a counter-intelligence unit dedicated to crushing all forms of black activism? What do you mean you gotta go because Big Bang Theory is on? Don’t blame ya, SEC country. Guerrilla is Malcolm X listening to Kendrick Lamar on the dark side of the moon black. It’s also gonna be goddamn incredible. Bonus fun exercise: imagine Showtime pitching this series to the same audience who salivates over Carrie Matheson using her bi-polar superpowers to kill some evil brown people.
Chances it gets picked up to series: The six-episode run debuts on Sky in Britain and Showtime here in 2016
Blood Will Out (TNT)
Walter Kirn’s 2014 memoir about his 15-year relationship with a German con artist pretending to be a man named Clark Rockefeller is ripe for television adaptation, primarily because the source material could benefit from a few dramatic flourishes. The story is fascinating — Kirn discovers the man he knew for much of his life as Rockefeller is actually Christian Karl Gerhartsreiter, and he’s about to be tried for murder — but the book focuses far too much on the author rather than the more interesting Rockefeller. Hopefully the showrunners find a way to inject more forward momentum into the narrative.
Chances it gets picked up to series: Have zero sense of how TNT makes pickup decisions. Call it 50 percent.
A fascinating, timely premise from A Simple Plan writer Scott Smith — a ferociously contested presidential election has America on the brink of a second Civil War — and spectacular cast (Bradley Whitford, Courtney B. Vance, Eliza Coupe, Toby Jones, Brian d’Arcy James, Enrique Murciano) make Civil maybe the most intriguing potential series of the coming year. Only one problem: it’s on TNT, a basic cable network lacking a single signature series. Pulling off a show this high-concept is a challenge even for established players. Remains to be seen whether TNT can join their ranks.
Chances it gets picked up to series: The pilot would have to be a disaster for TNT to pass given the struggles the network experienced with Public Morals and now Animal Kingdom. 80 percent.
The One Percent (Starz)
The crew behind the Academy Award- winning Birdman (Alejandro González Iñárritu, Alexander Dinelaris, Jr., Nicolás Giacobone and Armando Bó) head to the small screen for a series about a shrinking violet organic farmer named Alfred Murphy (Ed Helms) stuck working for his overbearing father-in-law (Ed Harris), while in the middle of a messy divorce from his wife (Hilary Swank). Murphy’s fortunes change, however, when he wins the lottery and needs to decide what to do with the money. Maybe he can finally afford that organic produce he’s been growing. Iñárritu will direct the first two episodes, one of which includes a scene where Harris wrestles a bear for absolutely no reason.
Chances it gets picked up to series: This is a little hard to decipher. Variety lists One Percent as a series pickup for 2017. Thing is, Starz ordered it to series way back in January 2015 with an eye on a 2016 debut. That clearly didn’t happen. Harris will appear in HBO’s Westworld this fall, and if that makes it to a second season it’s hard to see how he’ll star in both. So I’ll give it a ¯\_(ツ)_/¯
The Last Tycoon (Amazon)
Few eras are more romanticized onscreen than Old Hollywood. Based on F. Scott Fitzgerald’s unfinished novel about pre-World War II Hollywood, The Last Tycoon centers on the relationship between Matt Bomer’s Clark Cable-esque actor Monroe Stahr and studio honcho Pat Brady (Kelsey Grammar) as they battle for control under the rising specter of Hitler’s war machine. This isn’t the first time talented actors and filmmakers have tackled Fitzgerald’s source material — Elia Kazan and Robert DeNiro took a shot back in 1976 with mixed results — but writer Billy Ray (the criminally underappreciated Breach, Shattered Glass, Captain Phillips) incorporates other true-life storylines not included in the novel to expand the world in exciting new directions.
Chances it gets picked up to series: That’s up to you. You can watch the pilot right now and let Amazon know if you want to see more.
Netflix tapped the crew behind the excellent Gomorra for its first original series from Italy about a small seaside hamlet outside Rome that becomes a war zone after politicians and criminals try to turn the town into a gambling paradise. Netflix introduced Suburra with a two-hour movie of the same name (watch here) that debuted on the service the day it arrived in Italian cinemas; the series continues the story for another 10 episodes.
Chances it gets picked up to series: We just talked about this.
The Handmaid’s Tale (Hulu)
Hulu made significant strides over the last few years transitioning from the service people use to watch late-night shows the next day to a full-fledged original content provider. If done well, The Handmaid’s Tale, based on the classic Margaret Atwood novel, could be the property that vaults them into the tier with Amazon and Netflix. The drama follows life in the dystopia of Gilead, a totalitarian society facing environmental disasters and a plunging birthrate. Women are property of the state, forced into a life of sexual servitude in an effort to reverse the population decline. The main character, Offred (Elizabeth Moss) must navigate this dangerous world to find the daughter who was taken from her. Atwood’s rich novel is ripe with timely themes, and Moss (Mad Men, Top of the Lake) is a perfect choice to play the conflicted, rebellious Offred. Please don’t screw this up.
Chances it gets picked up to series: Locked in for 2017.