Thursday, May 19, 2016

The Mystery Behind Why CBS Passed on the Nancy Drew "Drew" Pilot

I write and consult about Nancy Drew - it's a pretty fun job, indeed! I'm currently working on some fun Nancy Drew book projects and am in the process of writing my biography on the original Carolyn Keene, Mildred Wirt Benson. I also know a little something about Nancy Drew and her fabulous fans...


UPDATE #2: FYI, my tone/comments especially to the twitterverse who hilariously and predictably lost their marbles nearly over this failed pilot, is to be taken very much in the vein of sarcasm and what not, because it was just too easy to not be sarcastic ;-) However, as to the facts and adding to the points below and the first update from Shahi as to the real reasons why this never passed muster, we have it's own producer Tony Phelan stating, "We did a pilot and we tried to forget about it...” - in the law we call that res ipsa loquitur (that's for "the matter speaks for itself" and in the vein of Nancy Drew, Case Closed!

UPDATE: Actress Sarah Shahi had this to say about the pilot - which pretty much backs up the rest of this blog posting: “We did a pilot. It didn’t go,” she says. “It didn’t go and I’m very happy it didn’t go. It was not good.”

Read on for more clues about why it was "not good" below...


She wouldn't want her story told like this, for sure, and actress Sarah Shahi deserved more. Nancy Drew would also do some investigating behind the rumor of "too female" as well before going on a rant. Apparently reading Nancy Drew and being a fan of her doesn't necessarily translate to being skilled like Nancy in seeking out the truth. ;-) Bottom line, the pilot was "too non-fan or too non-canon-friendly" and Nancy Drew's characterization was off. So, rant all you want about the pilot "Drew" being passed on, but once you read what they did to Nancy Drew, you'll actually be glad the "Drew" pilot never made it to air regardless of the other faux drama going on. I'm pretty sure where there's smoke ("too female"), there's really fire (poorly conceptualized pilot which is more likely right). Either way I'm completely in CBS's corner on this call. Read on for more tantalizing clues and pilot revelations sleuthers...

 The Mystery of "Drew", Nancy Drew!

So, there's the Nancy Drew "elephant" in the room so to speak, the "Drew" pilot that was shot for CBS which I've declined to comment publicly on in the past few months once it was announced and during its filming. Over the weekend there was a "firestorm" of angry Twitter rants once the pilot was passed on by CBS. However, I was relieved it was passed on because of what they did with Nancy Drew in the pilot, which is the biggest problem of all.

Why, you might ask? Why would a Nancy Drew fan like myself who has championed the series for over 20 years as a Nancy Drew consultant, author and President of the Nancy Drew Sleuths be negative toward a Nancy Drew TV project? A project which I've pined about for years saying that we need a successful TV show or movie to help build the brand and franchise.

The answer in a nutshell is that I've got a clue or two about how things work in the Nancy Drew fan world and I know a bit about the pilot. I've dealt with fans for years, I know their likes and dislikes and I know how irritatingly fickle they can be. If they couldn't handle trivial issues including things like a character's hair color in past incarnations of Nancy Drew, if they couldn't handle 2002's Maggie Lawson as Nancy Drew or 2007's Emma Roberts as Nancy Drew, there's no way in hell, they were ever going to handle the pilot "Drew" and it's characterization of Nancy Drew and other fan-favorite characters.  And I can say that with just about 100% certainty. I know Nancy Drew fans!

Because I'm a little more clued in than the average Twitter ranter about what went down with the CBS pilot, I can guarantee a lot of these ranters might second guess their faux-Twitterversy when they hear about what would have been, had CBS picked up "Drew." If this had gone on to air, then we would have likely devolved into more twitter rantings about how they ruined Nancy Drew and gave the proverbial middle finger to legions of Nancy Drew fans with an adaptation that is grossly out of whack with Nancy Drew canon and what most Nancy Drew fans want. There's just no way CBS would win in either situation. I think they made the right choice to bow out now, before having to deal with the negativity and therefore less than stellar ratings and ultimate cancellation that would have likely resulted. I'm certainly willing to "eat" my words if I were to be proven wrong of course, however the same pattern has presented itself before with past TV and screen incarnations of Nancy that strayed too far from canon and failed to succeed and the resulting usual pattern of fan reaction, lack of support and then resulting failure of shows. Been there, done that.

So, I'll just save everyone the trouble of any more conspiratorial Twitter rants and disclose what would have been done to your beloved Nancy Drew and then I'll have a little fun with this past weekend's twitter "lovefest" toward CBS because hey, you've got to make lemonade out of lemons, just ask Beyonce!

The Secret of Nancy Drew's Most Dastardly Villain

Nancy Drew's most dastardly villain of all time? Nope, not Bushy Trott who left her tied up in a hidden attic room to be poisoned by a black widow spider in The Secret of the Old Attic. Not Mary Mason who left her to drown and burn in a fire in The Mystery at Lilac Inn. No, not the crazed mad scientist who nearly boiled her alive in the revision of The Mystery of the Moss-Covered Mansion! No, the most dastardly villain Nancy Drew has ever tangled with is The Hollywood Phantom Menace alias "We think we know better than those little Nancy Drew fans!"

The pilot "Drew" was loosely based on the classic Nancy Drew books we've all known and loved for over 86 years. I use the word "loosely" very loooooooooooooosely as it bears little resemblance to anything beloved about Nancy Drew for generations. In other words, a police procedural that's mostly in name only.

I don't think I've ever seen such a poor adaptation of Nancy Drew from the classic Nancy Drew series in my lifetime and I mean no disrespect by pointing that out, it just is what it is. I was told the producers and writers of the pilot, Tony Phelan and Joan Rater (Grey's Anatomy), are huge Nancy Drew fans. I'm having a hard time wrapping my head around that though, based on what they changed so drastically. They may be some kind of Nancy Drew fan, but they are apparently clueless about what most Nancy Drew fans actually want to see in a TV show. This kind of thing could have been sorted out and smoothed over by consulting with someone knowledgeable about such things like me on the project, but apparently they must have passed on having me give them this kind of advice, which I would have freely given, considering the fact I've been wanting a TV series for years! I'd like to see one done successfully that takes into consideration all sides of the Nancy Drew coin--canon/fans/creators and all.

I have no doubt that spitfire Sarah Shahi would have done a fine job as Nancy Drew, the problem lies though with the source material and characterization she had to work with. There's a way to do a modern Nancy Drew and still stick to canon and be successful and not alienate the fan base. It's not rocket science. Past incarnations have failed to recognize this as well, though the 1970s version starring Pamela Sue Martin came the closest to being successful thanks to the savvy TV Producers Arlene Sidaris and Joyce Brotman who understood that straying from canon too much, is a no-no.

Then, of course, there's another way to do a modern Nancy Drew where you give classic Nancy Drew canon (and by association generations of fans) the shaft. We're clearly got more of the latter, not the former, with the "Drew" pilot, which is a shame.

Banking on name or brand recognition alone and expecting fans to support it for who it is in spite of what they've done is a little insulting to fans who have read and treasured these books for generations and a little insulting to those who worked so hard over the years behind the scenes to help make the series a success. I'm sorry, but 86 years of history has to have some bearing on anything done in the modern world and it can be done, it just needs to be done in the right way. I'm not saying perfect, just better and more respectful of everyone involved.

Which is why, sad to say, I've hoped - in its present form - that "Drew" would fail. If another network were to pick it up, hopefully they would revamp the concept and change it up, as it will need a lot of work to bring it to a reasonable Nancy Drew fan-supportable level. You have to remember with a niche subject like Nancy Drew, there's already a built in fan-base which you have to rely on to come out and support your project. If you alienate the fan base or a large group of them, then you will have to scramble for others to come on board in enough numbers to drive ratings, and that's much harder to do. I've learned of course, that with fickle fans, it's hard to please them all. That's an impossibility, but it's not that hard to please MOST of us if you just stick to what has made the books so popular for so many years.

The Not so Mysterious Case of 
Why Nancy Drew is So Popular...

86 years of Nancy Drew history and generations of fans have loved Nancy Drew for all the reasons that this pilot isn't.

People who grew up reading Nancy Drew, cite Nancy as influencing their lives. Supreme Court Justices for goodness sakes! That's pretty amazing. There's a reason for this. Nancy Drew is empowering. She's bold, brave, independent, and was treated as an equal to adults even though she was just a teenage girl. That's the kind of girl power that has kept her alive for over 86 years and made her Mystery's IT GirlTM!

But there's more than just that, there's the whole Nancy Drew characterization and formula that made this series such a success. And the safe and sane mantra that the Stratemeyer Syndicate, who created the series, imparted into all their children's books, of fun entertainment without all the spoils of social issues or anything political, as it should be. Just fun entertainment to excite and thrill children and get them hooked on reading.

Ultimately Nancy Drew has been a great role model to generations of girls and boys who have read them too. In real life she's become a pop culture icon revered and celebrated by people from all walks of life.

Here's the basic formula in a nutshell: Nancy Drew, a girl of eighteen, lives with her father, attorney Carson Drew and their motherly housekeeper Hannah Gruen in River Heights. Her best "foil" friends are cousins Bess and George and her special friend and boyfriend is Ned Nickerson. Her mom died when she was 3 of an illness and Hannah and Carson have raised her to be a very bright, independent and curious young woman who has the courage of her convictions, is never baffled for too long by a puzzling case, who loves a good mystery, desires to help others and right wrongs, and always in the end manages to succeed against the most dastardly of villains and save the day, restoring honor and justice in the wake of evil deeds.

We can break this down further into character traits that have been set out on purpose by the creators and writers of Nancy Drew for generations:

Nancy Drew - age 16 originally, then 18, blonde then Titian haired, fashionable, brave, independent, honorable, polite, nice, kind, amateur detective, "slim and attractive." Dates Ned Nickerson.

George Fayne - tall, dark short hair, a tomboy, athletic, bold, brash, tells it like it is, adventurous, dates Burt Eddelton, signature phrase "Hypers!" - Bess's cousin.

Bess Marvin - short, curvy, blonde, always on a diet to lose 5lbs, likes boys/food/shopping/romance, a fraidy-cat, dates Dave Evans - George's cousin.

Carson Drew - Nancy's proud father, attorney, smart, treats Nancy like an equal and relies on her, helps others in need, indulges Nancy's determination to solve mysteries.

Hannah Gruen - the motherly housekeeper of the Drew's, worries about Nancy, fabulous cook, Middle-aged, German.

Ned Nickerson - Nancy's patient boyfriend, from nearby Maplewood, attends Emerson University, football player, in a fraternity, tall, handsome, smart and capable.

Obviously, some of these character traits can be left on the cutting room table when creating a pilot like "Drew" that modernizes and ages all of these people about 15-18 years ahead of book-Nancy's world to making Nancy and her pals around mid-30s and then Carson and Hannah into their 50s/60s for him and 60s/70s for her. For instance, we could drop Bess always being on a diet as I think most fans would be OK with dropping that tired-old silly thing!

However, some of these characteristics are what has endeared us to the characters for so many years. Like Hannah's fabulous cooking and motherly worry-wart-self or Carson treating Nancy like an equal and indulging her mystery solving. Nancy always being bold and brave and George and Bess being her sleuthing pals who also operate as foil friends to set off Nancy--two extremes to Nancy falling in the middle. To change any of this drastically, to many fans, would be akin to being "sacrilegious" to canon. And that's a no-no that should have been realized in this situation. I certainly could have explained that to the powers that be.

The Secrets Behind "Drew" & 
Why It Likely Was "Mysteriously" Passed On...

Instead of the canon, the foundation and formula and the characterization that has endeared fans to these characters for generations, this is what we were going to get instead with the pilot, "Drew" - and you'll see why I was never on board once I realized what had been done to your beloved characters:

1. Nancy Drew aged to 30s - this is somewhat minor compared to the rest of the changes. But still, aging a character brings into the mix all sorts of situations that the books avoided, as it's quite a drastic change. However, this is the least of our worries.

2. Nancy is adopted - nothing against adoption, but I didn't see how this was necessary to change this element? I guess this is how they sought to bring in diversity to the show--since if she's adopted, she could be any ethnicity/etc. They could have made her deceased Mom diverse, however.

3. Nancy lives in NYC & River Heights is a city near NYC - again, River Heights was generally always a "Midwestern city" and had its own fair share of crime and criminals and quirky characters which would have been far more interesting than another bland police procedural from NYC.

4. Nancy is a NYPD detective, who quit the force over a bad case - sorry, but Nancy would never have joined the police force, she would have preferred more freedom, and she was never a quitter!

5. George is on the NYPD too - this doesn't really fit with George's characterization from the books either.

6. George possibly has alcohol/emotional problems - drinking beer before noon to Nancy's concern - we don't need a dysfunctional George!

7. George is a lesbian - original intent was never that George was a lesbian. This is cringe-worthy because this plays on athletic/tomboy stereotypes, and stereotyping isn't really appropriate. This almost borders on parody and jokes fans and scholars have made over the years, instead of trying to come up with something original.

8. Bess is dead of a possible suicide or murder. Regardless, still dead. Most fans will HATE this. After all, they hated that Bess and George were not a major part of the 2007 movie.

9. Carson in his 50s or 60s is shacking up with Nancy's former school-mate nemesis from The Secret of the Old Clock, Isabel Topham. Oh, and she's pregnant! Too soap opera-ish. The Carson Drew of the books would NEVER sleep with the enemy.

10. Nancy working as Uber driver, not sure of herself anymore - Nancy Drew had her moments of doubt in the books, but we'd rather her be kick-ass than kick-herself-in-the-ass!

11. The Mentalist and Psych have been reincarnated into Nancy Drew in the form of her uncanny observation skills which were not her method of solving mysteries in the books. We don't need another  Mentalist-type show.

12. Hannah is working as a paralegal to Carson Drew and is now a "ballbuster" who tells Nancy to sit "her ass down" as seen in casting audition videos posted publicly online - Definitely not Hannah from the books. I want motherly Hannah who can whip up a midnight snack after a hard day of sleuthing.

13. Nancy cusses - words like "asshole" (at least in casting script audition tapes found publicly online) - most definitely not Nancy Drew from the books, we expect her to be classier than that.

14. Ned and Nancy are not together anymore - fans flip flop over this issue as some like Ned, some don't, but overall most like them together. The books were never about romance, they were always about mystery as Nancy's true love and that's the way it should be in a series--romance should take a back burner to the mystery at hand.

15. Ned is an investigative journalist with the New York Times - Ned was not into journalism in the classic books, he was into sports, worked for an insurance company and as a camp counselor during summers, and was big into science, so this is a big stretch. And frankly, it's kind of boring.

And these are just 15 things that I'm aware of as reported on publicly by reviewers of the pilot/script and casting/audition videos posted online regarding the pilot, who knows what else was done...

The actress playing Nancy Drew, Sarah Shahi, who I loved on Person of Interest, tweeted earlier this year that this pilot isn't "Your mamma's Nancy Drew. Ha!" You think? It's not my Nancy Drew either, nor most fans from everything I've been hearing. Book-Nancy has been popular for a reason--many reasons--of which this show doesn't measure up, sadly.

It really is as if someone without any perspective or respect to creators and fans of Nancy Drew, sat down and thought they could change things for the sake of modernization and slice and dice canon as they pleased without realistically playing homage to 86 years of Nancy Drew and her fans.

Yeah, I can see why CBS passed on this apparent hot mess. You can make a character modern but you don't trash the characterization of beloved characters - traits which endeared us to them and made them popular for decades and expect enough fans to be on board for that soon-to-be sinking ship. You don't kill off an integral part of a threesome of friends, Bess, and expect legions of fans to be happy about the death of Bess. You don't take Nancy's relationship with her father Carson Drew and take it to a trashy level where there is dysfunction in his bedding & impregnating the enemy - Isabel Topham, the nasty "vapid creature" and one of the villains from The Secret of the Old Clock.

Hannah Gruen "ballbuster" cussing at Nancy, wow, so not motherly! George is now a lesbian - playing into every bad stereotype about girls that a tomboy who is athletic must therefore be a lesbian, is just insulting to lesbians and everyone else. And that she may have a drinking problem as evidenced by Nancy being concerned she has to bring George beer before lunch? That's not how we want our well loved characters to be modernized.

Nancy being a cop in NYC and then an Uber driver unsure of herself and suddenly is now The Mentalist reincarnated? She didn't walk into a room like The Mentalist and have a case half-solved in 30 seconds. No, she snooped, eavesdropped, looked for clues, and investigated cases and used her sleuthing skills to deduce how things happened, sometimes got knocked out and chloroformed and kidnapped, and used her wits to get her out of sticky situations. 

Nancy was brilliant as an amateur detective who could beat the police and now she's just one of them. Nancy shouldn't be hampered by a police hierarchy, she should have more freedom like in the books. Because Nancy wasn't in school, had no regular job, was motherless and Carson Drew treated her as an equal, there was lots of freedom for her to solve cases and be her own boss. That Nancy Drew would never have joined the police force, she would have competed with it and bested it. Girl Sleuth Power, people!

Sorry, but this tried and true fan agrees with CBS and says no thanks, I'll pass on this too.

The Case of the Twitterverse Fanatics 
Who Fell Down the Hidden Staircase

Here's where we have a little fun with the Twitterverse who erupted over the weekend when news hit that CBS had turned "Drew" down for being "too female" which sent "too female" into trending for awhile on Twitter.

However, one missing element of the mystery behind why the pilot wasn't picked up, was an actual source for that "too female" rumor. An entertainment website,, ran a short piece about the show being passed on and said loosely that it was because it was "too female" though it "tested well" even though there are counter reports that it tested terribly and was "unwatchable." However listed no direct substantiation. I actually reached out to the writer at Deadline to ask about their source and never heard back. But, I'm also connected in other ways, so I reached out to see if in fact CBS really passed because it was "too female." In the meantime, CBS addressed the rumor in a presser on their fall lineup and shot the rumor down, which makes sense if you think about it. Obviously Nancy Drew is pretty darn female. Even the most giant of ding bats would realize that. CBS Network President Glenn Geller noted, “Well that’s just not true. We have a number of pilots to choose from, and we chose the best pilot." I think based on everything I noted above, we can clearly read between the lines here of why "Drew" likely wasn't picked up. There may be a demographics/ratings/advertisers issue too in the how the show tested that was a factor as well--and likely that is another part of the reason the pilot failed. Regardless of why CBS passed, what I've noted above would have certainly hastened its demise if it had been picked up.

I've been shaking my head over "fan" reaction and rage evidenced by lots of F-bombs, cussing, raging, threats, talks of boycotts, anti-male sentiment and so many more "love notes" to CBS I can't write about. I think about Nancy Drew being a pretty kick ass sleuth, yet she always managed to hold herself in check and was a class act and diplomatic and would never rant and rave and cuss and throw a tantrum like a 2 year old denied TV show. So, I find the ranting a bit ironic. For one thing, as someone who has had to deal with stereotypes of "fans" as "fanatics" with the powers that be in my consulting on all things Nancy Drew, I surely can't thank you all enough (NOT!) for driving those fanatical stereotypes home! The Twitterverse as usual tends to fall prey to a minority of vocal fanatics and those who jump on the bandwagon with little connection to the regular fan base--the ones who give the rest of us level-headed fans a bad name and who likely make the powers that be cringe.

Regardless, this "too female" faux-Twitterversy and the many 18,000++ and counting tweets some of which copied networks and outlets like Netflix and the CW, begging them to pick up "Drew", I'd say were pretty smart "PR.". Of course, if it was all just organic and not any kind of last minute effort to drum up support for "Drew", it certainly may work out that way in the end especially if "Drew" finds another home.

The Mystery of the Missing "Drew" - Here's A Clue

I've always said that this kind of show would be better served on a network like Hallmark or in the vein of a show like ABC's Castle in which surely the strong and bold character Kate Beckett was inspired by Nancy Drew to a degree--or even a period piece from the 30s or 40s on a PBS/BBC type network. Or a teen Nancy Drew on a network like CW. After all, she has been a teenage sleuth for over 86 years and counting. A cozy style drama with a slight edge of girl sleuth power and Gothic mystery behind it--that's the real style and characterization which has made the Nancy Drew books popular for generations. Nancy Drew isn't gritty, dark, dysfunctional and doesn't belong in NYC in her 30s, so the "Drew" pilot just went in the wrong direction overall.

Regardless of the faux drama outrage, the real bottom line problem in all of this debacle, however, remains the content of the pilot as expressed above in detail. I'd much rather it have gone out with a whimper in not being picked up by CBS, than with a bang in being picked up and eventually canned due to poor ratings and angry rants about how they've ruined Nancy Drew and stepped all over 86+ years of canon. But hey, if it's a bang you want, a bang it might possibly be if someone else picks it up and doesn't retool it. Don't say I didn't warn you...


FWIW: The only 2 people who I've found so far that have seen the pilot/script and have posted public reviews of it online, also concur with my similar reasoning of it being poorly conceptualized and you can see those reviews here and here. Not as reliable or verifiable, but a commenter on another article noted that she was in the test audience for it and that it was "unwatchable."

UPDATE: Actress Sarah Shahi had this to say about the pilot - which pretty much backs up the rest of this blog posting: “We did a pilot. It didn’t go,” she says. “It didn’t go and I’m very happy it didn’t go. It was not good.”