Monday, August 06, 2018

So FOX is going to save some money

Michael Thorn, in his first year as entertainment president of Fox Broadcasting announced that this year they will make the same number of pilots as before but they will only buy half the scripts they’ve done in past development seasons.

Fox will be going through, as they call it, a “transitional” year. Once Disney takes over 20th, the Fox network, which will remain with Rupert M. will no longer have a studio feeding it product. In the past, as much as 90% of the programming on Fox has come from its sister studio, 20th. And the other networks have similar statistics. Eventually, Fox will start a new production company, essentially 20th.2.0, and within a few years they’ll be back up to speed. But for now they’re trying to ease off their dependence on 20th.

As for future development plans, Thorn said this: “In years past, I feel all the broadcast networks, including us, bought way too many scripts, 50-60 dramas and that many comedies. We are going to be much more disciplined in our buying and probably buy half as many scripts for approximately the same number of pilots we’ve been doing in years past, about six of each -- nine comedy and drama.”

Yeah, but here’s the thing:

Every few years one of the networks tries a version of this. “We don’t need as many pilots.” “We’re going straight to series.” “We’re going to be much more selective.” “We don’t need pilot season at all.

And every time a network institutes this the result is utter fucking disaster. They spend the entire next season scrambling, yanking shows off the air, patching up their line up with hastily thrown together specials or reruns, constantly playing catch-up. And what they discover is that the money they saved in reducing their development slate was small compared to the money they lost due to a poor season.

So the following year they’d go back to ordering more pilot scripts and making more pilots.

What Fox might be thinking however is, we’re going to tank anyway once we have no studio affiliation. So why throw good money after bad? They’re not going to say that, of course. Unlike the San Diego Padres, they can’t just admit this is a rebuilding year. Stockholders might frown. So instead, their position is "we're being smart and savvy.”

Is the pilot system, currently in place, a sound one? Absolutely not. It's horrible and wasteful and still produces overwhelming failure.  But the solution is not to shoot yourself in the foot. The solution is to hire better writers. The solution is to give them more freedom. Don’t micro-manage. Don’t develop the same tired premises. Don’t copy other successful shows. Don’t hire people to write pilots who don’t have the experience and talent and vision to come through for you. Don’t keep rehiring writers who’ve written failed pilot after failed pilot. Don’t hire actors to write pilots just because you’re enamored by them. Don’t waste your money on bidding wars for stupid zeitgeist shit that never comes to fruition. Don’t keep executives who have bad track records. Don’t give preference to your pod producer friends. Don’t develop out of FEAR.

It’s not the amount of money you spend, it’s HOW you spend the money.

I know. I’m a crazy radical with insane impossible ideas.

28 comments :

E. Yarber said...

Basically, when you're heading for trouble the best course is to reduce the number of options you have and paint yourself into a corner with a minimal inventory of programming, hoping you picked the winners in advance.

Anonymous said...

In only reading his quote, I thought that (paraphrased) "We are going to do the same number of pilots but half the scripts" meant that initial orders would be 6 shows instead of 13. To me, that makes sense. You know in six shows what level of disaster you have.
I will also say this - it doesn't matter to me anymore. I almost only binge and only watch what I know will be around to get the resolution from. Either a completed show, or a veteran show that isn't going away unceremoniously. Nothing worse than a season ending on a cliffhanger and then never getting resolved. Give me a show that is 3-4 years in so I know that it will have an ending. Or if I am just using it for background a comedy or anthology or procedural show that doesn't matter if tomorrow never comes since each episode is self contained.
One of the best things than Netflix did was giving Sense8 a chance to tie up the loose ends when it was cancelled. Even though I didn't watch it. I think that I would start watching Stranger Things or Altered Carbon or Lost in Space or a dozen others if there was a promise of it getting finished even if it was cancelled.

Janet Ybarra said...

Oh, and stop ordering "reboots" of past series. Come up with some good *original* ideas.

ScarletNumber said...

In the past, wasn't it illegal to buy a show from your own studio anyway? i.e. M*A*S*H was a Fox production, not CBS, and Cheers and Frasier were Paramount productions, not NBC.

The Bumble Bee Pendant said...

This strategy is like a MLB team not doing enough to grow and enhanced their farm system (I'm looking at you, my beloved Mets!!)

Peter said...

Ken, the Bond girl you said you once kissed, Jane Seymour, has said she's open to doing a Dr Quinn revival.

Add to this talk about a revival of ALF and Frasier and the announcement that Patrick Stewart is returning as Capt Jean Luc Picard in a new Star Trek series, there's hardly anything left from back in the day that isn't being rebooted.

Personally I'd like to see Knight Rider and The A-Team return with the original casts. I pity the fool who don't agree.

Rory L. Aronsky said...

Oh, and stop ordering "reboots" of past series. Come up with some good *original* ideas.

I wouldn't mind a reboot of AfterMASH. ;)

*ducks*

Or if I can't get that, then a reboot of Big Wave Dave's will have to do.

Baylink said...

So, Ken...

What do you have in your back pocket that -- as a writer with a track record -- you can drop in their lap?

MikeN said...

So now to get a series on FOX, first paragraph should include 'hot woman'.

Lemuel said...

Are they only producing shows so they can be syndicated? MOM has only its first two seasons in syndication, with the third awaiting. I enjoy watching the reruns but can't help wondering why they produce so little with so much talent and $$.

Mike Bloodworth said...

You're right Ken. No one is going to listen to your 'radical,' common sense ideas. Speaking of "common sense," if you keep making statements like, "It's not the amount of money you spend, it's HOW you spend the money." people are going to think you've gone...conservative. BTW, Peter, George Peppard died in 1994, so an original A-TEAM is a no-go. And William Daniels is ninety-one years old. No telling how long he could continue to be the voice of "Kitt."
M.B.

Cap'n Bob said...

I watch reruns of Gunsmoke (with Chester), Amos 'n' Andy, The Three Stooges, and various other Westerns from the days of glorious black & white and I'm happy as a clam. Yay, YouTube!

YEKIMI said...

Personally I'd like to see Knight Rider and The A-Team return with the original casts. I pity the fool who don't agree..

George Peppard is going to have a hard time learning his lines, considering that he's dead. Maybe they could have his skeleton make a guest appearance. Mr. T could use a nuclear powered walker that shoots Metmucil missles at the bad guys that always hit them in the bum. As far as Knight Rider....would the car come back as a Dodge Charger or be reincarnated as a Fiat 500 with Eddie Deezen as the voice of Kit?

E. Yarber said...

Maybe the new Night Rider could be a 1928 Porter with the voice of Ann Sothern.

Unknown said...

Cap'n Bob has a good idea, remake the Three Stooges! Giuliani, Pence, Drumpf comes to mind as leads. "Hey numbskulls, I'm tweet'n here! Boink"

notworthreading said...

Ken, FQ, even thought it isn't going to happen, would you ever consider a job at a network, something along the lines of VP of Development? If so, how would the job look and what would you do?

Donald Benson said...

Thinking of the old gag cartoon where a fussy lady tells her stockbroker to buy only stocks that will go up.

Peter said...

Yes, thank you, Mike and Yekimi, I'm aware Peppard is dead. I guess I should have said surviving cast members.

Mr T is no slouch. He's still in great shape.

How about a Taxi revival with the surviving cast members? Judd Hirsch, Christopher Lloyd, Marilu Henner, Tony Danza, Danny DeVito and Carol Kane are still going strong.

SwiftPope said...

Friday question. Norm on Cheers seems to drink quite a lot of beer. I don't mean he must, given the level of his glass, I mean he is seen to be drinking a fair bit. Assuming that some scenes require a few takes, I have to wonder whether Norm was drinking real beer or non-alcoholic beer?

Colin Stratton said...

"It's not the amount of money you spend, but HOW you spend the money". I've been saying that about the fucking government and every damn company I have ever worked for!

Liggie said...

@Peter: Speaking of the "Taxi" cast, the surviving cast appeared at a special honoring James Burrows' career. The emcee asked them, "First of all, what was Andy Kaufman really like?" Judd Hirsch said, "Easy question: We don't know."

Tom Galloway said...

Revive Knight Rider as a series where Knight and Kitt drive for a ride sharing service and get their cases from their passengers.

Peter said...

Liggie

Some people still like to believe Andy Kaufman faked his death and is living in seclusion somewhere.

PolyWogg said...

Man I have trouble leaving comments. Stupid Google+. I like to predict how new shows will do, based solely on their descriptions (almost the loglines, but more the public respun versions in preview articles).

I look at them as resembling entrants into most established markets:

a. Derivative -- Low likelihood of success unless it's cheap or focuses on one element really well, maybe 10-20%;

b. Duplicative -- Works well if the show you're copying hasn't already saturated the market, and you need a normally heterosexual couple with possible chemistry, maybe 40% chance of success; or,

c. Iterative -- Builds off what's out there, can approach 50/50 for success.

By contrast, category (d), innovative is the riskiest of all with a 1 in 10 or 20 chance of success.

Note that I'm only talking once they've been picked up for pilots, not to make it that far. Based on that, and only limiting myself to predicting new shows, I can hit almost 80% accuracy for renewal to Season 2. While everyone loves "disruption" most of the market is still predicated on giving people what they want, and what they want, is often what they already have, only more so. Sexier, funnier, etc. Is it exciting TV? Nope. But they're not in the business to be exciting, just to make money.

Reboots, in my view, come in somewhere between duplicative and iterative. More successful than duplicative, maybe almost to iterative, and if you're keeping the original cast, even to start.

Way better odds than going with the "free writer who's innovative". You might not be the one setting the trends, but you are more likely to remain employed.

P.

VP81955 said...

Not true. The first four seasons of "Mom" are syndicated to local stations (e.g. KDOC-56 here in Los Angeles) and I would guess season 5 will enter the package before the end of the calendar year.

VP81955 said...

Or cutting back on scouts to save expenses. Marge Schott did that with the Cincinnati Reds, one reason they've infrequently appeared in the postseason, even in the wild-card era. There's been little joy in the chili parlors over the past quarter-century.

Janet Ybarra said...

Yep, he is sharing a duplex with Jimi Hendrix, Jim Morrison and Elvis.

Janet Ybarra said...

Those remaining cast members would be collecting Social security not driving a cab.

In other words, they are too old to be believable as working stiffs anymore.