Monday, April 15, 2013

What's currently happening in the world of pilots

We’re in the middle of pilot season. For those not intimately involved, here’s what’s currently happening:

Network executives are running all over town to get from runthroughs to table readings to filmings. And Coldwater Canyon is closed. As they’re stuck on Laurel Canyon desperately trying to make a runthrough for a pilot they pretty much know is dead they’re muttering to themselves. “Why can’t they spread out these pilots?”

Table readings used to consist of the cast sitting around a conference table with writers, execs, etc. sitting in one row behind them. Now there are so many executives that the cast is generally at one long table like a dais and there are rows of chairs – theater seating.

So to get a jump there are now often pre-table readings.

Actors are being fired after table readings and runthroughs. Networks, studios, producers, and directors try to reassure their nervous casts but actors aren’t dumb.  The pressure can be enormous, especially if a pilot isn't going well. 

Actors are being fired because their parts are being eliminated. Almost every pilot goes into production way too long. The sister, the fourth roommate, the zany mechanic – they’re usually the first to go.

Or, those side characters score and suddenly became the second lead.

Creator/producers will ask their writer friends to come in and help out on rewrites during production. Half of these consultants will show up, sit in the room, and not say a word.

Every cast will have one actor who is a handful. Hopefully, it’s only one, it’s not the star, and whoever it is is worth it.

Some sitcom pilots get massively rewriteen. Here’s what I don’t understand:  the script was good enough to get a pick up, and the actors hired were the ones who got the biggest laugh with that material. Why is it now all shit?

Several pilots will implode. Most of those never should have been greenlit in the first place.

Jim Burrows will direct most multi-camera pilots.

If you have a project in the running at CBS, yes, Chuck Lorre’s new pilot will fill one of the slots. Not because he has three shows on the schedule already, but because this pilot is very funny and well cast.

Buzz in everywhere and totally unreliable. A good table read will result in the media saying it’s a lock for pick up.

All decision are made in New York.

Movie directors now direct drama pilots because it’s a big payday. They work a month and collect a fat royalty for the life of the series and never even watch the show after that. 

Pilots that networks love they can suddenly hate… and then love again… and then hate.  This can go on for weeks.

When you read that a list of shows is “also in contention” it usually means they’re dead.

No one wants to turn in their pilot first. The network sees it, likes it, but by the time they have to decide they’ve seen it seven times and are bored with it. All producers try to get their pilots in one minute under the deadline.

Networks always claim they’re high on the pilots starring big stars. Especially when the pilot is in production, that’s to placate the stars.

Just because a network has given a project a firm order even before the pilot is produced doesn’t man it will be one of their best new shows. It often means the opposite.

Forget the buzz, ultimately it’s testing that will determine the winners.

If you have a pilot, best of luck. You can catch up on sleep during the flight to New York.

"Why can't they spread out these pilots?" 


Mitchell McLean said...

"You can catch up on sleep during the fight to New York."

Did you mean "flight," or did you leave out the best part? :-)

Anonymous said...

One more... execs will swear they are 'passionate' (gag) about your project, testing be damned, but in the end testing is is the only opinion that matters.

BigTed said...

Of the sitcoms that get picked up, one-quarter will be canceled quickly because only a few people find them funny (and they're watching "Arrested Development" on Netflix). One-quarter will become hits, but most people will claim not to watch them because they stupidly appeal to the lowest common denominator. One-quarter will get decent audiences and stay on the air for years, even though you don't know anyone who watches them or even realizes they're still on. And one-quarter will be funny, have great casts, get plenty of viewers, and become so successful that they continue until all the original writers have left, the actors are busy with movies, the stories are played out and they aren't funny anymore.

Unknown said...

Friday Question:

Ken, what is your opinion of pilot script competitions such as NYTVF's (New York Television Festival)Fox Comedy Script Contest? Do you think they are a valuable tool for those who are out of the industry to use to break into the business or do you believe otherwise? Seeing as how they only guarantee that the winner is given the opportunity to make a pilot, and after learning how the pilot process works from you, would you suggest a more direct route to the networks, and if so, how?



Tom Quigley said...

"Some sitcom pilots get massively rewritten. Here’s what I don’t understand: the script was good enough to get a pick up, and the actors hired were the ones who got the biggest laugh with that material. Why is it now all shit? "

I know of one pilot back in the 90's that exactly that happened to, a show about the magazine publishing business. The original creator (who will remain nameless), was booted off the project by the network and the project was handed over to someone else (who shall also remain nameless, but industry people will know her) who had already scored with one megahit, and she completely reworked it to the point where she was not only given credit as showrunner, but also credit as the show's creator.

I had crossed paths with the original creator on another show he had worked on as a writer/producer earlier in his career and when I heard the news, kept thinking to myself "It couldn't happen to a nicer guy"...

Cap'n Bob said...

Scene: The Tonight Show. Guest: Don Rickles. Johnny asks Don if he has any shows in the works. Don says he has a hand in a few pilots. Johnny replies, "You've had a hand in more pilots than an Air Force proctologist."

Badda bing, badda boom!

cb said...

Great post, Kenny...a zeitpost. So true.

XJill said...

I was on a panel/focus group just last night at ASI - feel my POWER! I love my annual sojourn to the Valley.

Only one show I've ever screened got picked up and that was after my small group recommended recasting the female lead. I'm sure Kaley Cuoco is glad they ignored us.

Breadbaker said...

They were shooting a pilot for a show starring Geena Davis at Gas Works Park here in Seattle the last few days. She stars as a Seattle bailbondswoman, although the show will be shot for interiors in Portland.

cadavra said...

Cap'n Bob--Reminding me of Paul Lynde's classic line: "I've had more pilots shot down than the Luftwaffe."