Despite its status as a beloved literary property, Edward Stratemeyer’s Nancy Drew series has found little crossover success on TV. Throughout the years, there have been multiple pilots (backdoor and otherwise) that failed to get off the ground, including the 2015-2016 pilot season’s proposed Drew proposed reboot from Tony Phelan and Joan Rater. (Some series made it past the pilot stage, but ended up being annexed by Hardy Boys shows.) Their script, which received a pilot order, reimagined the famous teen sleuth as an adult detective, one played by Person Of Interest’s Sarah Shahi. CBS touted the series’ diversity, but ultimately passed on the project while green-lighting the now-defunct Doubt.
As the creators of both shows, Phelan and Rater were one-for-one, then zero-for-one when Doubt was canceled. But according to Deadline, their Nancy Drew series is suddenly back in play—at a new network. NBC is now developing the series, which Phelan and Rater have revised once more. Instead of Shahi’s grown-up cop who would have been busting perps when not hanging out with her dad Anthony Edwards, the new subject of Nancy Drew isn’t a detective or even named Nancy (we don’t think). Phelan and Rater are going with a somewhat meta approach and centering the show on the author of the Nancy Drew books. That is, a fictional writer, and not one of the many ghostwriters who were responsible for the books over the years. And this woman will find herself “thrust into a real-life murder mystery,” whereupon she’ll have to rely on her childhood best friends who she stabbed in the back by portraying them unfavorably in her books while always making herself out to be the hero. (Sorry, Bess and George.)
As high-concept series go, this isn’t the most out there, though it also sounds like a last-ditch effort from Phelan and Rater to rework the property in which they’re obviously very invested. At least the roles are for middle-aged women, whom we don’t see enough of on TV. But then you get to Rater’s description of their “superpower,” and things just start sounding silly again. The co-creator says the show will conceive of the women’s age as “their superpower; no one notices them when they walk in, it’s a way for them to fly under the radar. They talk about how they feel unseen.”
Of course, there’s the possibility that this is all part of some complicated dig at CBS’s programming decisions. Though the eye network showed some progression by moving forward with Doubt—cast member Laverne Cox became the first trans series regular in broadcast TV history—it was also criticized at the time for reportedly dropping shows that skewed “too female.” CBS hasn’t tried to recover any lost ground in the interim, either; back in May, president Les Moonves said the network was doing “fine” on the representation front, even though the number of women leading shows are still in the single digits. Still, this is quite the long con that Phelan and Rater are running.