Wednesday, October 12, 2011
Network Execs admit the system isn't working
Remember last month I did a post about how this pilot season was getting out of control with all the insane bidding wars and feeding frenzy for so-called hot projects? Here’s that article. Well, the network heads acknowledged that, but basically put the blame on the increased media coverage. Nowadays, if even a pilot script is ordered it warrants a blurb on Nikki Finke’s site or a mention in one of the trades. In the past, that was a complete non-story. Networks commissioned scripts everyday. Imagine the Los Angeles Times running a headline story every time Cal Worthington Ford sold a used Taurus.
But in this age of instant information, script deals are now news – as is which mega mogul owns the most land (Liberty Media’s John Malone, if you care)? One network executive said, “Every single thing that happens is now being reported, from a pitch to speculation on the terms of a deal, and that does absolutely impact the business.” while another network executive added, “I get the email about a media inquiry while the producer is still in the parking lot. That adds to the frenzy.”
Let me ask a question, and this is probably why I wasn’t invited – Don’t you get into bidding wars based on the ideas themselves? Why would you let the media play you? So now you’re stuck with all these projects that you’ve given production commitments to and you’re saying you kind of got bamboozled into them? Just wait until January when all these scripts-with-steep-penalties-attached come in. I have a feeling you’ll really be cursing Nikki Finke then.
Kevin Reilly of Fox (who I really like and that’s after he killed a pilot of ours while at NBC) took the floor and was the most outspoken. He admitted that the current model of developing shows is flawed at best. “We’ve programmed those things and they’re usually hideous” was how he put it.
He also lashed out at the antiquated methods ratings were still based on. “I’m not going to fight the windmill of Nielsen, but we do need to keep them honest,” he said. “The fact that we still have people filling out diaries in their living rooms is insane.”
He couldn’t be more right, although he has more to benefit from that outmoded system than anyone else. When the idiots who can’t read or spell fill out their diaries by just scrawling a big X I’m sure Simon Cowell’s show gets credit for another family.
Something else Reilly said which really makes sense: He was discussing the current cycle of network development (scripts assigned in the fall, 80 pilots all filmed in March and April, the fall schedule announced in May, and the top new shows premiere in September). “The fact that we are in lockstep and choreographed from the same dance backing up from the upfront is stupid, highly inefficient, wasteful and not good for anyone in this room,” Reilly said. “Penalties become irrelevant and things can’t be done well if there’s bottleneck. When you watch the vast pile of product at the end of the season, a big majority of it is embarrassing. Creative is difficult, but there are also a lot inefficiencies we can get rid of.”
I would have stood up and cheered (if I had been invited, which of course I wasn’t).
What he says makes perfect sense. But here’s the thing: who’s going to blink first? Which network is going to break that cycle? They all want the upfront money so they can go to their stockholders and boast about all the advertising dollars they’ve taken in months before their new shows even air. Which network is going to step back and give up their piece of that pie?
Whoever does might ultimately assemble the best shows and reap the dividends in spades.
But really, who are we kidding?
When we see by the bidding wars that the networks are so afraid to let each other get a tiny edge that they way overpay for projects written by screenwriters and actors with no TV pilot experience, good luck expecting any of them to make a move any bolder and forward-thinking than redeveloping BEWITCHED (which one of them is actually doing).
To be continued: at next year's luncheon.