The TV Flops
...Which is not to say that he hit it out of the park every time. For every "Alias" or "Lost," or even "Fringe" (arguably the most consistently strong show with the Bad Robot name, but never a big ratings player), there was one that didn't pay off. To briefly run down the misses:
"The Catch" (2005)
In development since before even "Lost" (and delayed when Abrams was brought on that last-minute by ABC), this was a vehicle for another of his childhood friends, "Alias" supporting cast member Greg Grunberg, who played a bounty hunter. It went through various incarnations, with a pilot finally being produced in 2005, co-starring Don Rickles, but the network passed on the show.
"What About Brian" (2006)
They did, however, pick up this hour-long comedy-drama created by Dana Stevens ("City Of Angels"), starring Barry Watson as a 32-year-old Venice Beach video game designer who's the last single guy in his group of friends, it was a slightly awkward blend of sitcom and something closer to "Felicity." Airing as a mid-season replacement, with only six episodes in its first season, it got off to a strong start, and was renewed for a second season swiftly. But ratings had halved by the time the first season had wrapped up, and ABC ended up truncating the second season, and cancelling the show soon after. Now, it's probably most notable for an early role from Jon Hamm, who had a recurring role in the first season.
"Six Degrees" (2006)
Airing the season after "What About Brian," with the prestigious "Grey's Anatomy" lead-in, this was another genre-free drama with a strong cast -- Hope Davis, Campbell Scott, Erika Christensen, Jay Hernandez). But its "Magnolia"/"Crash" set up proved to be a bit soapy in the execution, and the network yanked it off air after six episodes (two more were aired months later, the rest never saw the light of day in the U.S.).
"The Office" & "Jimmy Kimmel Live "
Abrams served as a guest director for Jimmy Kimmel's talk show in 2006, and, like Joss Whedon, also helmed an episode of "The Office" -- in his case, "Cocktails," a season three episode that helped to bring Jim & Pam's relationship to a head.
Abrams has been a network TV guy to date, with one major exception: an HBO pilot called "Anatomy Of Hope." An adaptation of Jerome Groopman's book, it followed the lives of the doctors and patients in a cancer hospital, and had a strong cast including Chris Messina, Kerry Condon, John Ortiz, Eion Bailey, Simon Callow and Matt Craven, and a script by Rafael Yglesias ("Fearless") and Tom Schulman ("Dead Poets' Society"). Abrams directed a pilot after wrapping "Star Trek," but HBO decided not to pick the show up.
Created with "Felicity" writer-producer Josh Reims, "Undercovers" was a throwback , "Hart To Hart"-ish action series involving married pair of CIA agents. Notable mostly for having two black actors (the excellent Boris Kodjoe and Gugu Mbatha-Raw) in the lead roles without being aimed specifically at African-American audiences, the series was stripped of the serialized, science-fiction elements of "Alias," which is perhaps why it didn't prove so compelling; despite Abrams himself, hot off "Star Trek," directing the pilot, ratings were never especially strong (though it's a mark of how fast the TV industry has changed that the show would probably be a solid hit if it pulled the same ratings today), and was cancelled after a couple of months.
Perhaps the closest that Bad Robot has come to trying to recapture the "Lost" magic (right down to Jorge Garcia as a nerd), "Alcatraz" was a big-budget Fox series that saw the inmates of Alcatraz mysteriously reappear in present-day San Francisco. The show, which had a strong cast including Sam Neill and Parminder Nagra (who proceeded to spend the whole series in a coma), attempted to meld a wider conspiracy story with a more procedural, escapee-of-the-week tone, but the premise simply didn’t have the broader pop culture appeal of “Lost,” and after a big premiere, ratings plummeted, and it was cancelled after the first season.
A now-rare non-genre outing, "Shelter" was Abrams' first project with the CW, and was set at a historic resort in New England, following the lives and loves of the staff. It didn't quite fit in with the CW's young adult remit, and failed to be picked up for a series, though a pilot was produced.
Still, given the countless other projects that Abrams has in development, we can't imagine he's too heartbroken. Speaking of...