Tuesday, April 21, 2015
Determining whether your fave will survive or face the chopping block is difficult because each show is in its own unique situation. If your show gets a 1.5 share on NBC you might scrape by. The same 1.5 gets you axed with extreme prejudice on CBS.
Many factors figure in. Does the network own your show? Is your show a critical darling? Is the audience small but building? Does it attract the right demographic? Are there commitments attached?
Example: TNT has paid CBS a fortune for syndication rights to HAWAII 5-0. But they must have a certain number of episodes. So CBS will keep HAWAII 5-0 on the air until they reach that number. That’s great for Alex O’Loughlin; not so great for you if you have a drama pilot at CBS. That’s one less slot that’s open.
Also, what are the needs of the network? Good luck getting a comedy on CBS only because they’ve picked up most of their current crop. TWO AND A HALF MEN is gone but that’s only one opening. CBS could add another hour of comedy or pick up a few shows for midseason, but that will depend on how well they like their pilots, whether they want to lean more towards comedy than drama, and whether they keep bubble shows like THE NEW ODD COUPLE.
It seems you have a better chance of getting on the air if you have a comedy pilot at NBC. But the trouble there is that their comedy presence is a disaster. So they have no idea what they want, where to put the shows, and how to launch them. On Tuesday you’re exactly what they want, on Wednesday you’re dead, and then on Thursday you’re back in the mix. You’re shooting at a moving target.
And if you’re a bubble show on NBC like UNDATEABLE and ONE BIG HAPPY with shitty numbers (and they are), are your chances enhanced simply because you’re already a known entity and NBC doesn’t have to launch you? Or will the game plan be to flush out all the marginal shows and start fresh with new shows? And if so, how many new shows? And where? And when? And paired with what?
Or… a combination of both. Pair a new show with ONE BIG HAPPY. Good luck to that new series, by the way.
Networks pay studios a “license fee” to produce shows. Once you get down to the eleventh hour, negotiations for license fees can get hairy. There may be a show the network wants to add but the studio balks at how little the license fee is. Or the studio goes back to the showrunner and says, “Can you still do the show if we have to cut the budget by 20%?” His answer, and the studio’s willingness to settle for the license fee determines whether the show gets on the schedule. And your pilot or bubble show might hang in the balance based on the negotiations with this other show. Nerve wracking, huh?
And like I discussed last week, re-signing actors whose deals are up is also key.
And never forget the importance networks place on research, despite how untrustworthy the results are at predicting success. When a staggering number like 90% of shows fail, you have to really question the validity of research that gave these shows a thumbs up. Remember last year? The big story was CRISTELA. ABC had passed on the script. The producers took the penalty payment they received, made the show anyway, and it tested absolutely through the roof. This was going to be the next COSBY. ABC then put the show on the air with great fanfare. The result: it’s a bubble show.
If you have a comedy pilot at ABC I hope it’s about a family. Those are the sitcoms that get on the air. If there’s one slot open and it’s between your pilot that’s set in an office or CRISTELA, who do you think gets the nod?
But wait… there’s STILL more! Casting. Stars (or at least actors networks think are stars). A Matthew Perry project has a much better chance than a pilot starring a fresh new face – even though Matthew Perry has had a string of bombs. Star power matters. Does your pilot or bubble show have one?
And in rare cases, showrunners are stars. Networks want to be in business with them. Chuck Lorre and Shonda Rhimes can pretty much get anything they want on the air. They’ve earned that right.
But wait… yes, there’s even still more. Under the table deals. When our show ALMOST PERFECT got renewed it was only because CBS wanted JAG, which was at the same studio. Paramount tied us into the deal. ABC also wanted JAG. Had Don Bellasario, the producer of JAG decided to take the ABC deal our show probably would not have survived or been pushed to midseason. Instead we were on the fall schedule even though the network demanded we drop one of the stars and we had no idea what the actual show was.
And finally, fan campaigns. It’s a Hail Mary, but the more fans of a bubble show can rally, send letters, emails, and flood the network with love the better. In fairness, networks have been burned by these. They’ve kept shows on the air that had small but fierce fan bases and rarely do those shows suddenly blossom given a second life. But it could happen. And it does get the network’s attention. I’m sure CRISTELA will have a fan campaign. I suspect it will be hard for ONE BIG HAPPY to get six people to write in on their behalf.
The next few weeks will tell. In the meantime, we have pilot buzz, rumors that change hourly, and secret deals in the works. If only the shows themselves could be as exciting as the process.
Good luck to all the writers, producers, and actors who either have pilots or bubble shows still in the ring.
UPDATE: Speaking of pilots, my writing partner David Isaacs' daughter just graduated from the University of Miami and is trying to produce a sitcom pilot. She has a Kickstarter campaign and could use your help, dear blog readers with money who like to support the arts. Here's the info. Between Annie Levine and Andie Isaacs we're getting ready to pass the baton to the next generation of Levine & Isaacs. Thanks much.
By Ken Levine at 6:00 AM