Monday, May 08, 2017

PRE-viewing the current pilots

Okay, the Fall pilots are in (you were worried, right?). They’ve been filmed – in some cases re-filmed. Studios have done their pre-testing. Yes, it’s not enough the networks test pilots; studios now pre-test them – the same way studios now have pre-table reads before the actual table reads.

Soon it will be staffing season, but showrunners of pilots are meeting with writers now. It’s pre-staffing season. So writers will be taking a lot of wasted meetings because once the pick ups are announced most of these showrunners will have nothing to offer.

Within a week or so the networks will announce their new Fall schedules and also pick up shows for mid-season. This is called the Upfronts – when advertisers buy time “up front” for the upcoming season. Most of the hit shows have already been renewed, and a few pilots are getting early pick ups. So it’s pre-Upfronts, which is interesting because “Upfront” is another way of saying “pre,” isn’t it?

Those early pick ups give showrunners a real head start in staffing. Or, more accurately, it gives the showrunners who don’t get early pick ups a real disadvantage.

And now comes nervous time, coupled with RUMORS. Industry websites are filled with articles this time of year handicapping pilots.  It's all about the buzz

What shows are front runners? What shows are losing momentum? What current shows are on the bubble? What shows are dead? What shows have support in certain circles but are still considered longshots? What shows may have poor “linear” ratings but are doing okay overseas and may still be worth renewing?

Decisions are made based on testing, based on commitments, (another “pre”), whether they themselves own the show, what the global prospects are, where it might fit in the schedule, whether it has a suitable star in it, whether it appeals to the exact audience that network is trying to reach, whether it can be produced for a lower license fee, whether it’s a legacy show, whether it fits a need, whether it’s good counter-programming, whether the network wants to be in business with that producer, whether bubble shows get an uptick in the ratings, and oh yeah – whether it’s any good. (And I’m sure I’m leaving out a few factors.)

But wait – there’s more (as they say on those infomercials)!

Projects arrive out of the blue at the last minute. A studio will finance a “presentation” that suddenly a network loves. This year networks have decided that reboots of old shows are in so when Roseanne announced she would make more of her show (good luck to those writers) there were several networks that leaped at the opportunity. AMERICAN IDOL is getting a reboot. That resulted in a bidding war. Think about it – if AMERICAN IDOL goes on your schedule (probably mid-season), how many hours over how many days a week does that eat up? In other words, how many scripted shows that would have been ordered don’t get ordered? (One reboot means six boots.)

So you can imagine the anxiety showrunners are experiencing at this very moment. Their show is on, their show is off, it’s being considered for mid-season, there’s talk of recasting, they’re getting a pick up of 13, they’re getting a pick up of 6, they’re dead, they’re alive again, they’re alive but dead. AAAAAAAAHHH!!!!

The ultimate decisions get made in New York, and super agent Bob Broder once coined the phrase: “Everything turns to shit over Mississippi.” Shows the networks loved in LA somehow lose favor by the time the final decisions are made in Gotham. Testing is in, pressure is applied by other more powerful producers, and don't forget AMERICAN IDOL.

Things can change by the minute.

And they do.

One producer I know was told his show was on the schedule and the network put him on a plane to New York for the Upfront presentation. A limo picked him up at his house, whisked him to LAX, where he flew first class across the country. When he got to JFK there was no car waiting for him. That was strange, he thought. He then got a call from his agent. The show was dead. Sorry. So no car was provided and the luxury hotel reservation was cancelled. If I’m not mistaken, the producer had to turn right around and fly back on his own dime.

Good luck to everyone in this maddening game of musical chairs. You might want to make appointments with therapists now. Pre-appointments.

21 comments :

Mitchell Hundred said...

I just hope the American Idol reboot does some new things with the characters and world. The entire point of a reboot is to free up a work from all the continuity problems bogging it down, not rehash them.

Kyle Burress said...

This blog brings to mind my trip to Vegas last week. All along the strip whenever my friends and I were walking, there were people dressed in red polos offering money to come and test out and preview a pilot (all for NBC I believe). We never stopped to ask as we were more interested in losing all of our money, but would this have been multiple shows they were trying to test out, or just one show that the studio has high hopes for? I assume it was something pre-recorded. We were joking that the first day we were there they were offering $25 to go see it and the very next day it was down to $20. Is this a normal process for testing out pilots on audiences?

Brad Apling said...

It seems like a scary proposition to be working in LA as anything from a producer, screenwriter, director, actor or a gaffer; so, it begs the question - What's the mental driver that keeps anyone in the game? It would seem there's room on a lot of shrink's couches for all the rejection & wavering that goes on.

Mark said...

After reading your blog I'm very curious what your answer would be to this question.

You have two offers:

1. A 26 episode season on a network for a lot of money but the usual interference from the network (as you have so painfully described!).

2. Complete autonomy for an 8 episode season (summer on a network or Netflix) for much less money.

Which would you choose? Of course you have success now so it might be easier to choose the second option, but how about also answering as the up and coming Ken of a few decades ago.

VP81955 said...

One reason I prefer to write features. That is, assuming I can ever get one of my romantic comedy scripts produced.

Melissa C. Banczak said...

I wish we'd said yes when asked to preview a new show called Joey. We might have helped avert a disaster.

Tom Quigley said...

The uncertainty hits everyone involved with a pilot, and not just because a decision is made not to pick it up. A friend of mine got cast in a syndicated sitcom as the next door neighbor to the main characters, filmed the pilot on a Friday, went back on Monday to shoot some pickups and meet with the showrunners and found out he was no longer the next door neighbor.

Anonymous said...

Got a lot of my pre-work done today. I pre-thought (it's like the mere whiff of a conception) about my work efficiency while raising potato chips to my mouth and watching Netflix. I'm sure my boss is pre-enthusiastic about all the pre-wages he's giving me. Still, I can't get over the nagging feeling that all this, and I, am somehow pre-mature.

Fortunately another handful of potato chips helps to push that troublesomely realistic thought back down. :crunch, crunch:

Sean





Just Curious said...


Just curious. Which Industry Websites do you access? I'm guessing Deadline, Variety, THR, The Wrap, SSN. Any others you especially like?

Ted said...

In a TV environment that allows "Imaginary Mary" to be an actual network show, nobody knows anything.

Peter said...

Friday Question:

With so many sitcoms returning for "limited event series" like Roseanne, Will & Grace,etc, perhaps it's only a matter of time that TV executives ask for a limited run of new Cheers. Obviously this can only happen if the Charles brothers and Ted Danson say yes. Do you think they would and if they did, would you and David also get on board?

Anonymous said...

I don't believe the flight from LA to NY flies over Mississippi

ScottyB said...

Wow. After reading all that, I wonder why the heck anyone would want to move to L.A. to be an actor when they'd be way better off moving there to be a therapist. The work would be rock-steady forever, and boy, could you ever make a boatload of cash on the entertainment industry alone.

Arthur Mee said...

Cheers could work SO WELL as a limited-run six or eight episode "event series". There's not a lot of explanation needed, or some stupid 'reunion' that needs to be contrived for story purposes ... just pick things up as if it were season 35. It wouldn't even be hard to have Frasier back in Boston.

Of course if Ted Danson isn't interested, it's not going to happen.

Stockbridge80 said...

I am not a professional writer, but I would like to add my "two cents", haha. Please, for the love of God, whoever makes these decisions to keep scripted reality smut on television-just stop!! Also, enough with the sitcoms trying so hard to be culturally sensitive or politically correct, while trying to work in every special interest group known to man. It is pathetic and stupid, not to mention extremely distracting from the storyline. Enough with the slapstick jokes that are cringeworthy and forgettable. I am referring to "Kevin can wait", "The Carmichaels", "Trial and Error", and every other idiotic crap being churned out by writers who probably are in there 20's and have no real life experience to offer. Writers need to be producing scripts that people can identify with while trying to work some naturally humorous events in. Please, please, give the fourth wall thing a rest. The actors talking to the camera thing needs to be given a serious rest. I hope one day, the networks will wake up and realize "hip and modern" does not always equal entertaining. "Roseanne" was a very smart, genuinely funny at times, sitcom. Yes, it was a bit morbid, when you realized this is how millions of blue collar Americans had to live-pay check to pay check. However, it had depth and revolved about how the family unit dealt with those circumstances. Yes, the last season was ridiculous, but hopefully they learned their lesson on deviating from a winning formula. The best shows I have seen in the past few years, are "Parenthood", "Grace and Frankie", and I am pretty impressed with "This is Us". I've accepted we will never have another "Frasier" my absolute favorite, but it's a shame no one seems to even be trying! Is it that the networks think people don't want clever, heartfelt sitcoms, or that those scripts just aren't being written and offered? At this point, we watch Netflix 95% of the time, and we will either be watching older sitcoms or the Marvel shows like, "Daredevil" or "Luke Cage". At least this way, if we are going to watch a show crash and burn, it's in the script.

Andy Rose said...

@Kyle Burress: Vegas has been a popular place for networks to do focus testing because the city gets so many tourists from all across the country. It's fairly good way to get a cross-section of America in one place.

CBS set up its own permanent research center at the MGM Grand.
https://www.vegas.com/attractions/on-the-strip/mgm-grand-television-city/

Diane D said...

Peter and Arthur Mee
You do realize that it would have to be Ted Danson AND Shelley Long, right?

VP81955 said...

My late friend Francine York (whose life we celebrated this past Saturday at Sportsmen's Lodge in Studio City) guested on all sorts of TV series over her more than 50 years in the biz and appeared in a number of pilots that weren't picked up, but her only sustaining role came in the second season of the mid-sixties Richard Crenna drama "Slattery's People." She always got plenty of work in both TV and film, but never quite found that one role people might best remember her by.

Anonymous said...

This reminds me of George Carlin's take on the prefix pre. Regarding preboarding an airplane he quipped "You get on before you get on?"

Drew said...

Re: a reboot of CHEERS. I think it would be depressing as hell to learn that twenty-five years later none of those people had moved on with their lives and that they were still stuck in their same old routines in that bar.

Richard Rothrock said...

A CHEERS reboot would only work if someone new bought the bar & there were a whole new set of characters talking about things relevant today. Past cast members would make highly publicized guest appearances for sweeps week.