Monday, April 28, 2014

It's pilot season! Oh boy!

This is that two week window when the pilots for potential fall shows have been completed and turned over to the networks for consideration, analysis, and second guessing.

The ultimate decisions will be made next week in New York. Why New York? Because that’s where Madison Avenue and the advertising dollars are.  Follow the $$$.

Meanwhile, there’s a famous saying in television. Everything turns to shit over Mississippi.

What does that mean? Network executives originally screen the pilots in Los Angeles. They decide whether they like them and whether it's safe to tell anyone that they like them. Rumors start to swirl. Frontrunners, dark horses, and dogs emerge. The trades and industry websites dutifully spread every rumor they hear regardless of the source.  An NBC page is considered a "reliable source." 

Working on false hope, creators are taking meetings with writers trying to get a jump on selecting a staff. Three weeks later they’ll be meeting producers when their can’t-miss pilot just did.

The pilots are shipped off to be audience tested. And then the executives wing east. Somewhere over the great heartland word comes back that none of the frontrunners tested well. Or on second thought, certain executives that liked a particular pilot don’t anymore (i.e. they gave it to their kids and their kids didn’t like it). By the time the plane lands the once “lock” is now dead.

Executives huddle with sales and marketing people, maybe a board member or two. Show creators, their studios, and agents fly to New York for a week of damage control, wheeling and dealing, and PIPPIN.

More rumors. You can’t keep up with them. Shows on “the schedule” at 10 are dead at 11, revived at 12 when the producers promise to recast, dead again at 1 when they can’t cast Russell Crowe as per the network’s request, back on the schedule at 2 when the studio lumps the show into a package deal along with another show the network definitely does want.

This goes on for every show for five days. Stars the networks courted a month ago and promised the moon, now get tossed aside like last night’s dirty dishwater. Mary Louise Parker is a God… until 40 cretins in a focus group decide she has a funny mouth and her project is kaput.

For all concerned it’s waterboarding except you get to see a Broadway show at night.

Sometime the end of this week, beginning of the next, things will start to fall into place. Commitments will be honored, cast members the network likes will be lifted from shows that aren’t going to go and inserted into ones that are. And most important – license fees will be negotiated. That’s the dollar amount networks give to each show to produce their series. If an episode costs more than the license fee it is the studio on the hook for the rest. Here again is when frontrunners die and dark horses blaze around the final turn.

So many variables. Are you compatible with your lead in? Did your stars test well? If flawed, is it worth picking up but recasting, re-shooting, or replacing all the writers with other writers who were replaced from other shows?

The key is not to let the rumors drive you insane. You need to save that nervous breakdown for when your show does get a series order.

Best of luck to all. Remember, there are a lot of bars in New York. And PIPPIN is really good from what I hear.


Scooter Schechtman said...

Who cares when a "series" starts? The Dick Van Dyke Show had 30 (brilliant) episodes a season.Now a series might have 10 (marginal) episodes before going on "break" and they're marketed as precious metal. With unprecedented gobs of commercials, not counting the crap they shove onto the bottom of the screen. I'm sympathetic the networks just don't have enough money. Give us more money! Now!

Michael said...

Friday question:

Between networks, basic cable, pay cable, and now streaming services (Netflix, Amazon, etc), there are more places than ever for show creators to pitch new shows to. What factors do they consider when deciding where to pitch?

Johnny Walker said...

Rob Grant had been so convinced that the US version of RED DWARF was a shoe-in that he and his writing partner started looking at buying homes in Los Angeles.

When Dan Harmon's show, HEAT-VISION AND JACK, failed to get picked up he fell into a funk so deep he didn't leave his house for weeks. Not even to buy toilet paper.

Sounds nothing short of a cruel and vicious nightmare. My heart goes out to anyone living it at the moment.

Bill Taub said...

It's a great system which quickly weeds out the best and casts it aside. Nobody gets their first choice. The lowest common denominator on which there can be a consensus wins. And all go home victorious, scarred and bruised, but feeling good about themselves -- until the winners actually air. Then reality strikes.

RG said...

Fun Friday question: In Andy Greenwald's column on a reader wondered in light of Girl Meets World what other 80's child characters were now ready for their own TV sitcom and in doing so specifically mentioned the show 'Frederick' about a medical student now living with his father, Frasier, and the show would allow various members of the bar gang to re-appear on television in character all these years later. Interested to know if you or your colleagues already had this thought. If not, just from the description offered are you ready for 22 episodes? What about supporting characters (and who plays Niles' son??)? Maybe in your version Frasier, fired as part of Cumulus' epic failure, now writes a blog and does a podcast - I know, a real stretch for you.

Anonymous said...

So do you think THE NEW GIRL got green lit because nobody hates Zooey DesChannel (she is soooooo cute!) and they thought they were seeing the next FRIENDS? Then how does it stay on the air while being soooooo mediocre?

Charles H. Bryan said...

A little serendipity: I was listening to a podcast (not recent) regarding old time radio and during a discussion of Duffy's Tavern it was mentioned that one of the writers of Duffy's Tavern was Abe Burrows -- James Burrows' father.

That's two generations of successful bar-oriented entertainment.

Jeffrey Mark said...

I think all of this stuff that goes on is just plain "crazy-making." It's just plain insanity. I don't know how people can put themselves through all of this.

thomas tucker said...

@Jeff Mark: well, it must be like the old joke about the guy who gets a rash from giving enemas to elephants at the circus, and when told he will have to quit, he responds with "What? You mean give up show business?"

Kathleen said...

@Bill Taub: Ah! You answered the question I was going to ask Ken, which was, "So how the hell did 'Whitney' survive that kabuki meatgrinder?"

Larry Orkin said...

(Larry Orkin) Friday Question:

I recently watched the Modern Family holiday episode which was shot in Sydney where I live. Whilst the episode did a great job of showing off Australia it wasn’t particularly funny, was overburdened with clich├ęs and lacked the inventive construction of the show’s best efforts (like their Las Vegas episode). Some of this might be attributed to the onerous demands of Tourism Australia and Qantas who funded the trip but in your opinion what’s the best way to approach and write such holiday episodes to ensure you get the most out of the change of scenery?

The Bumble Bee Pendant said...

@Kathleen. The first couple of episodes of Whitney were funny (the boyfriend in particular). But then it was obvious that some producer or network exec came in and had "suggestions and notes". Immediately the show faltered as the tone, and dynamics changed.

Charlie O'Brien said...

Funny line from Amy Poehler on "The Writer's Room" when she heard "Parks and Rec" was being considered - she "bought a mansion and filled it with gold furniture."

VP81955 said...

Blogger Johnny Walker said...
Rob Grant had been so convinced that the US version of RED DWARF was a shoe-in that he and his writing partner started looking at buying homes in Los Angeles.

Which may explain why studies show LA to be the number-one rental market in the U.S.