July 22, 2014

THE SKED Fall Pilot Report: NBC’s “A to Z”


A TO Z:  Thursday 9:30PM on NBC starting October 2 – If Nothing Else is On…

Disclaimer: Network pilots now in circulation aren’t necessarily in their final form. It’s not unusual for pilots to be reedited and re-scored, and in some cases even recast or reshot, before hitting the air. Consider these reports to be guides to the general style and content of the new shows coming your way.

PLAYERS:  Series creator Ben Queen (he wrote the script for Cars 2).  Non-writing producers Rashida Jones and Will McCormick.  Stars Cristin Milioti and Ben Feldman.  Supporting performers Henry Zebrowski, Lenora Crichlow and the voice of Katey Sagal.  Pilot director Michael Patrick Jann.  Warner Bros Television.

PREMISE:  The entirety of the rom-com relationship between website employee Andrew (Feldman)–a dating website, no less–and lawyer Zelda (Milioti).  A to Z, get it?

PILOT: A to Z isn’t particularly well written, but it has some charm almost in spite of itself.  That’s mostly due to Milioti, who nearly derailed the conclusion of How I Met Your Mother all by herself when–with very limited screen time–she proved so likable that audiences recoiled at the producers’ lethal plans for her character in the finale.  She’s just as endearing here, and although Feldman (who’s best known as oddball copywriter Michael Ginsberg on Mad Men) isn’t in her league, he makes a decent partner for the show’s limited demands.

But what A to Z lacks in substance, it makes up for in gimmicks.  Apart from the title (apparently each episode will focus on an alphabetical topic) and the character names, there’s an all-knowing narrator (voiced by Sagal) who issues pronouncements like the exact number of days Andrew and Zelda will date.  There are also a surfeit of meet-cutes.  First, Andrew and Zelda run into each other when she shows up at his office, the “cute” part coming when he thinks she’s gay, when actually she’s there to complain that the dating site mistakenly lists her as such.  Then it turns out that not only do they work in adjacent buildings at the same office complex, but their offices overlook each other, so they can communicate by gesture when they’re not staring moonily in each other’s direction.  And much of the pilot storyline is concerned with whether they had an almost-meet-cute years before at a concert where he was struck by a mysterious beauty in a silver dress–which she swears she’s never owned, but come on, who is she (and Queen) kidding?

We get it:  they’re meant for each other.  If Queen would stop shouting this news, maybe the show would have room for more than the obvious.  Fitting in there are the leads’ designated sidekicks:  blobby one-liner machine Stu (Zebrowski) for Andrew, bubbly Brit Stephie (Crichlow) for Zelda.  The only time the show takes a turn from its main quartet, it’s for some far-from fresh computer-nerd humor courtesy of Andrew’s co-workers.

Andrew and Zelda themselves are no less cliched, he being a die-hard romantic who believes in fate and big gestures, she a more tightly controlled type who doesn’t trust true love.  And yet, Milioti is so appealing that you do want to know what will happen next with her.  (That extends to her career, as well as her character.)

PROSPECTS:  Z is for Zilch.  A to Z has Bad Judge as a lead-in, it airs against Scandal on ABC and the new McCarthys on CBS, and at best it will have to transfer in February, when The Blacklist is already scheduled to take over its hour.  The odds of it surviving past M (the 13th letter of the alphabet) are slim.  But eventually, Milioti will find a part that lasts for more than a season–hopefully sooner rather than later.

About the Author

Mitch Salem
MITCH SALEM has worked on the business side of the entertainment industry for 20 years, as a senior business affairs executive and attorney for such companies as NBC, ABC, USA, Syfy, Bravo, and BermanBraun Productions, and before that, at the NY law firm of Weil, Gotshal & Manges. During all that, he has more or less constantly been going to the movies and watching TV, and writing about both since the 1980s. His film reviews also currently appear on and In addition, he is co-writer of an episode of the television series "Felicity."