Saturday, October 11, 2014

Did USA welcome our characters?

Here’s a question a reader posed yesterday that I thought I would address today.

Hamid asked:

When are we gonna hear about the new pilot you mentioned has been picked up?

We just learned the fate last week. David Isaacs and I had sold a pilot to the USA Network late last year.

Unlike broadcast networks that are on a pretty fixed yearly schedule (buy ideas and develop pilots in the late summer/fall, make the pilots in the winter, and decide their fall schedules in early spring, watch the all die in September), cable networks are under no such restrictive timetable. So things move at a leisurely pace (which is a nice way of saying “they take forever”).

So practically ten months to the day we sold the idea and wrote the script we learned USA decided not to go with any of their comedy pilots currently in development. They are changing direction and not focusing on comedy at the moment.

At least this is the explanation we’ve been given and we choose to believe it. Everyone at USA we’ve dealt with has been great and very straightforward. And they’ve all been wildly enthusiastic about the project (which we greatly appreciated).

But…

They’re not the ones making the final decision. This happens frequently. You work with executives for weeks or months, finally arrive at a polished script everyone is excited about, and then it goes up the ladder to the big boss (who, in many cases, is not even familiar with the project). And to paraphrase Harry Truman – the bucks stop here. The big boss has a different agenda, or changes his agenda, or has different taste than his underlings. For whatever reason, promising projects die.

It’s disappointing but after awhile you just used to it. I think we gave them a good script, it fit their needs (at the time), and if there’s one silver lining about this crazy process it’s that the same people who rejected you will court you to work for them again.

We had a great experience with USA. We’ll explore other options for the project, and now finally I can make vacation plans.

Besides, you guys wouldn’t want me running a television show. When would I have time to write the blog. You all dodged a bullet.

23 comments:

Rich said...

That's too bad. In our house we've big fans of the 'lighter' fare on USA - the 'blue skies' concept I guess they call it. Seems like in the past year or so they've shied away from that and we saw more than a few shows we enjoyed on USA end. It was our most-watched network, really.

I was happy to see them come back with a few half-hour comedies but now I guess they're getting away from that too? I believe Sirens was renewed, at least.

Anonymous said...

I am hoping that you continue to write for the theater. Both the plays and the backstage blogs.

Terrence Moss said...

Some of these big cablers are starting to be run with as much consistency, vision and long-term strategy as the broadcast networks.

They're all just grasping at straws at this point.

Scooter Schechtman said...

You need to come up with a Dead Body Show that can be rerun endlessly, or a snappy infomercial like Wen Hair Care, if you want to run with the big dogs of cable. USA is one dog of a channel.

Wendy M. Grossman said...

Sorry to hear this, Ken. It's not much consolation to reflect that journalism at some major publications works a lot like this, too: you work with an editor you like and agree on what you both think is a good idea...and then she has to take it to an editorial committee, and you never really find out what went wrong.

wg

MikeK.Pa. said...

With the changeover at Turner, TBS would seem like a logical next stop. As far as blogging while running a TV series, you can do it when you're sending out for pizza during rewrites at 2 a.m.

Angry Gamer said...

Sorry to hear about your project not going forward.

In my industry projects also get killed. Sometimes they are pretty much killed on a political whim. But one of the things I have noticed is there always seems to be a "certain pace" of moving with the good ones. What I mean is through the phases of a project you get the sense of "this is going well".

So a possible Friday Question: If you had to choose one thing that keeps a project on track what would it be? (Exec Sponsorship, Timing, Available Talent, etc)

Hamid said...

Thank you for answering my question, Ken. Like everyone here, I'd been looking forward to a new Levine/Isaacs comedy and it's disappointing to hear the channel isn't going ahead with it. I hope you can get it picked up by another channel or network. 

TV drama is in a golden age but TV comedy has been in a strange place for a good number of years. Aside from Brooklyn Nine-Nine, I can't think of any sitcom that's been worth watching in recent years. So it's no surprise I'm happy whenever I see a Cheers or Frasier rerun in the schedules. Great comedy writing stands the test of time. Will anyone be enthusiastic about a Two and a Half Men rerun in 20 years' time? But I can watch a Cheers from 1984 and laugh my head off. It's that kind of smart, witty and hilarious comedy that's missing from TV now.

I hope we get to see either this pilot or another one from you guys soon. In fact, I'd love to see Must Kill TV made into a movie.

Dan Ball said...

Well, the good news is that content production is probably at an all-time high with mere, non-player websites getting in on the action. Who would've thought Yahoo would want to stream/air COMMUNITY?

Phillip B said...

In business school there was a presentation about those attempting to make large "complicated" sales - usually conceptual or intellectual in nature.

The example usually was computer systems. In typical time it took to close such a sale was 18 months. The typical job tenure of decision makers was 11 months.

So anyone trying to make such a sale had to form a really close relationship with decision makers - knowing it would be their successors, usually in their first few days in the job, who would actually approve the project.

The time frames may be different in the entertainment industry -- but it is remarkable how many people take enormous credit for the success of projects "discovered" by someone who just got canned.

Wade Albert White said...

Sorry to hear they passed on it.

As a sort of follow-up to the original poster's question, what happens to a pilot that gets "sold" and the script written but subsequently not picked up? Do the rights to the show revert back to you? And if so, is there a waiting period, or as soon as the official word comes down is it then yours to do with as you please?

In addition, if a pilot actually gets shot, what happens to the that show if it isn't picked up? I assume the company that paid to shoot the pilot retains ownership of that episode, but can you still shop the show itself? Or is it dead in the water?

branch rickover said...

bummer

Cap'n Bob said...

Here's a high concept show? People drive tractor-trailers over the ice. When they get to their destinations the contents of the trucks are auctioned off to people who run thrift stores. Later, a team of truck repo agents try to find the now-missing vehicles while visiting mountain men along the way.

Chris said...

Friday question: http://www.vulture.com/2011/10/hulu_netflix_arrested_developm.html

You've probably read this/thought about this already. Any thoughts?

Klee said...

Hopefully, the won't pick up all the reality shows AMC has decided to cancel (to concentrate on filmed dramas instead).

Albert Giesbrecht said...

I suppose you could try to pitch the pilot to executives of the Nakahama Broadcast Corporation.

VP81955 said...

Sadly, I'm not surprised. USA suits probably are trying to impress the NPR snobs (e.g. David Bianculli) who frankly will never equate sitcoms -- particularly multi-camera ones filmed before a live audience -- with "good TV." Since "Frasier" left the air, such series are beneath their station (pardon the pun).

A tip to Hamid: Watch "Mom" when it opens its second season Oct. 30. I think you'll be pleased.

The Bumble Bee Pendant said...

Ken, Friday Question...
I'm going to a Question and Answer Session with Norman Lear next week. Is there any question you'd like to hear him answer?

Personally, I'd go with, "Archie, George Jefferson, Maude, Ann Romano, Fred Sanford and James Evans are forced to go out to dinner together. Who do you think picks up the check?"

Johnny Walker said...

So frustrating. The network passes and that's it? You can't shop it around? You have to move onto the next project just because the folks in charge have changed their corporate strategy?

Hmm. I know you don't like Kickstarter, but I wonder what an all star writing staff from the glory days of sitcoms could raise to produce a mini-series of their own?

Jane Espenson already did it with HUSBANDS!

Anonymous said...

Maybe they are looking into taking Longmire on and can't afford anything else, lol.

Pam St. Louis

Hamid said...

VP81955 said...
A tip to Hamid: Watch "Mom" when it opens its second season Oct. 30. I think you'll be pleased.


Really? I watched one episode from season 1 and found it very forced and nondescript, the same as most of Chuck Lorre's output. I like Anna Faris and Allison Janney but I don't think I'll give it another go.

Charles H. Bryan said...

Wait, if you get a show gig, we're blogless? Do you understand the moral quagmire we're in now? Now if you get a show in production it'll be like meeting the love of your life and then finding out that said True Love just got the offer of a megadollar dream job a continent away and can't take you along. And by you I mean us.

However, the perfect solution: Just make all of us interns on the new show. That way I still get some Ken-time, even if in passing it's just me saying "Hi, Ken!" and you say "Hello, person who can't remember coffee orders," and then afterwards I whisper smilingly to myself: "He knows who I am! This is great!"

Anonymous said...

How an they say they are abandoning comedy when they are running with Benched soon?

I suspect this decision is based on the miserable performance of Sirens.