It’s pilot season, which is like duck hunting season except not as humane. The networks are putting together their fall schedules and all the pilots they developed and shot are being tested, considered, and re-tooled. It’s far from a perfect system but no one’s come up with a better one. A few years ago Jeff Zucker, the “visionary” who turned NBC into the number four network from the number one network, decided to just do away with pilot season. The result: NBC had no new hit shows that year and the practice was reinstated. How this man keeps his job I have no fucking idea.
The word is this may be the year that comedy makes its big comeback. The networks are reportedly very high on a lot of their comedy contenders.
NBC just picked up a pilot called OUTSOURCED about an American company that outsources a lot of jobs to India. I can't imagine they will ever top the joke in Albert Brook's FINDING COMEDY IN THE MUSLIM WORLD when they go to a call center in India and one of the operators says, "Good morning, the White House". But at least it's different.
Chuck Lorre has a pilot for CBS about a fat couple. All the Norm jokes we couldn't use on CHEERS because they were insensitive and offensive will probably find their way into this show by episode three. But at least it's not PC.
Otherwise it seems like most everything else is a version of MODERN FAMILY (large dysfunctional inter-connected family units) or HOW I MET YOUR MOTHER (various combinations of young people going out in the world trying to hook up with other young people going out in the world). Here are just a few examples of the HIMYM theme:
CBS – True Love: Minka Kelly and Ashley Austin Morris star in this comedy about four friends from New York. Multi-Camera.
FOX – Traffic Light: Israeli theme dealing with three men in love. Single Camera.
NBC – Friends with Benefits: Five friends look for their perfect partner in this rom-comedy though until they find that special someone they decide to settle for friendship with benefits.
NBC – Perfect Couples: Rom-com following three couples in various relationship stages. Single camera.
You get the idea.
I have not read any of this year’s pilots. I used to. I would ask my agent and two hours later a big Xerox box would arrive with fifty scripts. Now agencies just email files or distribute thumb drives that contain them all. I stopped requesting them because it was too depressing.
But a show that might appear really pedestrian could be fresh and original and inspired if the right people are behind it. There may be some hidden treasures here; I haven't read 'em or seen 'em so I don't know.
A word about pilot premises: networks always claim they’re at the mercy of the ideas that writers bring to them. That’s not true. They decide which writers to see and they determine at the outset what themes they’re looking for. Networks meet with major literary agencies before pilot season and relate their needs. That info gets passed along to clients and result is two hundred writers essentially bringing in the same pitch.
A few years ago LITTLE MISS SUNSHINE was a surprise hit at the boxoffice. That pilot season there were fifteen bastardized versions of LITTLE MISS SUNSHINE – large dysfunctional family with wacky grandfather/grandmother/uncle/second cousin.
We once had a pilot for Fox that was very upscale urban. They ultimately passed, saying it was “too NBC”. One of the development people moved over to NBC and brought us in to develop it there. At the time her marching orders were slick sophisticated multi-camera shows that harkened back to NBC’s “Must See TV” glory years. We did a rewrite of the script, they loved loved loved it, and then MY NAME IS EARL premiered and was a hit. Suddenly the word came from on high – no urban multi-camera comedies. Only rural single-camera comedies. Our project was dead.
So needs can change right in the middle of the game.
Which shows will get picked up? Who knows? It changes from hour to hour. A pilot that has heat one day is dead the next. A show no one liked tested through the roof and is on the schedule. However, if I had to guess based purely on the buzz I'm hearing I’d say these two pilots get ordered: BEACH LANE and MR. SUNSHINE. One stars Matthew Broderick, the other stars Matthew Perry.
Oh, that’s the other theme this year: stars named Matthew.