The terror gripping broadcast television as viewers continue to run away — 8.6 million to “Duck Dynasty," 13.1 million to “The Bible," who knows how many to “House of Cards" — has meant boom times for TV’s most ephemeral product: the network pilot.
The big five networks have ordered nearly 100 pilot episodes for the 2013 fall season, up significantly from last year, when everyone was talking about how many pilots there were. Right now they are being cast and shot at a furious pace so that the fall schedules can be announced in May, and, as always, a great majority of them will be seen by no one but the people who make them and the programmers who reject them.
All that we know about these embryonic series are the names involved and the plot descriptions, but that’s enough to dream on.
Without pretending to know which projects have the best chance of success — beyond the Michael J. Fox sitcom already picked up by NBC and the latest “NCIS" spinoff at CBS — here are eight pilots that are intriguing for one reason or another: a star, a writer, a director, a premise. Will they be any good? We’ll probably never know.
“About a Boy" NBC
Nick Hornby’s novel, which already spawned a film starring Hugh Grant, now gives birth to a comedy pilot directed by Jon Favreau, with the always-on-the-verge actor David Walton (“Perfect Couples," “Bent") as the jerk waiting to be reformed. The attraction here: Jason Katims of “Friday Night Lights" and “Parenthood" wrote the pilot.
Major filmmakers like Jonathan Demme, Phillip Noyce and Martin Scorsese have directed TV pilots in recent years, but it’s still exciting that Alfonso Cuaron is involved in writing and directing this drama about a convict chosen to protect a superpowered 10-year-old girl. It sounds like a good match for Cuaron, who has made some of the most darkly enchanting movies about childhood of the last 20 years: “A Little Princess," “Great Expectations" and “Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban," the best of the films in that series. (Even the great sexual coming-of-age tale “Y Tu Mama Tambien" was about teenage boys.)
An unknown actress with the noticeable name Johnny Sequoyah will play the girl. One of the producers is J.J. Abrams, which increases the chances of a pickup, though his attention is split between “Believe" and an untitled science-fiction show at Fox that crosses “RoboCop" with “Blade Runner."
“Beverly Hills Cop" CBS
This could easily be terrible, but the idea of Eddie Murphy once again playing Axel Foley — now the father of a Beverly Hills cop (Brandon T. Jackson) — in a pilot written by Shawn Ryan of “The Shield" is pretty irresistible. This makes the list over “Crazy Ones" (CBS), the David E. Kelley pilot starring Murphy’s fellow geriatric stand-up star Robin Williams.
The spies-in-plain-sight genre may be about played out, but this one sounds like fun: Felicity Huffman (“Desperate Housewives") and Anthony LaPaglia (“Without a Trace") as the heads of a family of government-employed assassins. John Wells (“Southland," “ER") is one of the producers, and the director is the talented Craig Brewster (“Hustle and Flow").
The distinguished Australian actress Toni Collette (“The United States of Tara") takes another stab at U.S. television, this time with just one personality: that of a surgeon whose family is kidnapped just before she operates on the president. Other bright spots in the cast include Tate Donovan, Dylan McDermott and James Naughton. On the other hand, it’s a Jerry Bruckheimer production, which augurs a certain breathless conventionality.
Allison Janney plays Anna Faris’ mother — both ends of that equation sound pretty enticing. Chuck Lorre is the writer of this comedy, which could be good (“The Big Bang Theory") or bad (“Two and a Half Men").
Greg Kinnear could have a lot of fun as the disreputable, adulterous, tax-dodging lawyer in this drama based on a popular Australian series. Peter Tolan (“Rescue Me," “The Larry Sanders Show") is writing the pilot with Peter Duncan, creator of the original.
Untitled D.J. Nash Project NBC
One of TV’s best character actors, J.K. Simmons (“The Closer," “Oz"), gets a chance to headline in this comedy about divorced parents raising a son. His ex-wife is played by Parker Posey, whose eccentrically flinty persona has never found a long-term home on television. Nash’s background includes writing and producing for “Hank," “’Til Death" and “Traffic Light."