Monday, May 13, 2013

What's the latest on all those TV pilots?

Things are starting to fall into place for the networks' fall schedules. Many of the pilots that they were so high on two weeks ago are dead. Sure things like BEVERLY HILLS COP didn’t make it on the CBS schedule. Other front runners are wondering what happened.

The networks went back to New York last week to cobble together their schedules. As a prominent agent once said, “Everything turns to shit over Mississippi.”

It’s why you can’t get too excited when the network is thrilled that you had a good table reading, or you hear it’s some executive’s pet project. And even if your pilot turns out great and tests well, there’s still no guarantee it will get on the air. Or if it does, not be relocated to next April. If a network is enamored by a star they’ll often pick up a show even though they know it still isn’t perfect. That’s the case with SUPER FUN NIGHT. But ABC so wants to be in business with star Rebel Wilson that they’re willing to pick it up and retool. The odd man out might be you.

FOX gave a series commitment to DADS, a multi-camera Seth MacFarlane vehicle – a commitment – and that one still needs plenty of work.

Now this isn’t to say that these two are unique cases – each year plenty of new shows get revamped,  recast, etc. between the time they’re picked up and aired – and it’s not to say that the revamping doesn’t sometimes result in successful series. HAWAII FIVE-O was tinkered with endlessly and did alright. Come to think of it they’re still tinkering (as well they should).   Parker Posey and Alex Kapp Horner were just replaced on their picked-up pilots.  (Talk about we have good news and bad news...)

The bottom line on why shows get picked up – need, scheduling requirements (e.g. we need another multi-camera sitcom to go with our Tim Allen existing multi-camera sitcom), commitments to producers and studios, and first and foremost – does the network own the show? If there’s one slot open on NBC and you have a show at Warner Brothers that’s going up against a show owned by NBC/Universal, who do you think has the edge?

And before you get outraged, just know this is business and this is the way it has always been done. Producers know it, writers know it, actors know it.  Sometime you get jobbed but sometime you are the happy beneficiary. You just gotta play the game. And it is a game.

Who were the winners this year? Bill Lawrence certainly. He got a bunch of new shows on the air. Chuck Lorre picked up his fourth series (but that pilot deserved to get picked up on merit alone). Star producers like Joss Whedon (of course), Mike Schur, Greg Garcia, David E. Kelley, and Jerry Bruckheimer had productive pilot seasons. Star stars did well as well. They usually do. Robin Williams, Anna Faris, Sarah Michelle Gellar, Allison Janney, Will Arnett (again???), Tony Shaloub, Dylan McDermott, and Marg Helgenberger all landed series on CBS. And as mentioned, ABC thinks Rebel Wilson is a big star. NBC thought Maya Rudolph was two years ago. NBC comedy star power includes vehicles by Michael J. Fox and Sean Hayes.

It's a big year for comedies.  20 new sitcoms have been ordered.   Of course, last year 16 were ordered and only two survived (NEIGHBORS and THE MINDY PROJECT -- would those have been the two you guessed last September?).

Which brings us to the casualties – those current shows that were axed last week. Since I’m generally focused on comedies – NBC cancelled everything other than PARKS AND RECREATION (yay) and somewhat surprisingly, COMMUNITY (there’s a rumor that they might ask series creator, Dan Harmon back, but that’s ONLY a rumor -- repeat:  ONLY a rumor). But WHITNEY (thank God), GO ON, THE NEW NORMAL, 1600 PENN – gone. (What a difference a year makes. Last year the two stars of THE BOOK OF MORMON – Andrew Rannells and Josh Gad – both got series on NBC. This year, they’re both out.) SMASH was also put out of its (and our) misery.

But the message is clear. NBC was a disaster last year. It’s hard to build an audience with so many new shows but what choice did they have? Last year they had star vehicles (like Matthew Perry in GO ON), the Olympics to promote their schedule, THE VOICE, and SUNDAY NIGHT FOOTBALL. And still they finished the year in shambles. I read their pilots and the one that was my favorite is still in contention. It’s called ASSISTANCE by playwright, Leslye Headland, and it stars the wonderful Krysten Ritter. By the time you read this it could be on the schedule or dead or both.

CBS cancelled RULES OF ENGAGEMENT (the show that everyone thought had been cancelled three years ago), but as of this writing picked up three new comedies. So it sounds like they will add another hour of sitcoms. Of all the networks CBS is always the most secretive.

ABC dumped MALIBU COUNTRY, HOW TO LIVE WITH YOUR PARENTS, FAMILY TOOLS, and HAPPY ENDINGS but picked up several new series. Steady performers, THE MIDDLE and SUBURGATORY will be back.

HAPPY ENDINGS is shopping elsewhere and may wind up on USA. It fared the best when following MODERN FAMILY and MF begins its syndication run on USA in the fall so the thinking is HE might be a good complement. Stay tuned. This is a whole new opportunity for cancelled series and failed pilots that never existed until a few years ago. Shows like COUGAR TOWN and SOUTHLAND (although it was just cancelled) have gotten a second life on cable channels. Studios are currently scrambling to see if they can do just that.

This is the time when things change and update almost by the minute. Networks are putting their final schedules together, deciding which of the shows they’ve picked up will be for the fall, mid-season, and how many will be ordered.

Let the games continue!


I had to share this. A sideline reporter for the L.A.Kings interviewing Matthew Perry yesterday. Check out what he says about GO ON. You won't believe it I promise you. Thanks to my son, Matt for finding this.


KenNYC said...

Friday Question: When is the best time to pitch a show? Time of year, time of day, day of the week?

404 said...

I'm pretty unhappy about GO ON and 1600 PENN. And before you laugh, 1600 PENN started out kind of "meh" but hit its stride a couple of shows in. By the end it was really funny, and one of the shows that made me laugh the loudest. And the kicker for me was it's very quotable--my wife and I still reference several episodes, even months later.

GO ON was also very funny. Not as laugh-out-loud inducing, but it had developed some very interesting characters that I had started to become invested in. So, I'm a bit upset about that. Most of the other cancellations I'm okay with, and not really surprised about. And I'm very happy to see COMMUNITY coming back.

Anonymous said...

Am I the only one that can't stand Will Arnett? I just cringe whenever he comes on screen. Nothing against him personally, I'm sure he's a great guy, but it's like he can only play one character. Unfortunately it's one that I find incredibly grating. He almost wrecked 30 Rock for me but fortunately they didn't give him many episodes.

Matthew said...

Hey, I picked Name/URL... Anyway, the above anon comment was me.

Rory W. said...

Hey Ken,

I was really struck by this line in your post today:

"scheduling requirements (e.g. we need another multi-camera sitcom to go with our Tim Allen existing multi-camera sitcom)"

Do schedulers really think that way? I don't know that I've ever noticed the format of a show or shows that I like or necessarily cared. Only because of this post did I realize that "New Girl" and "The Mindy Project" are single-camera and "The Big Bang Theory" is multi-camera. (Those are the only comedies I watch/DVR.)

I can't imagine that audiences really care about that.

But, maybe I'm wrong.

Mike Barer said...

I take it that 2 and a Half Men is going to limp through one more season on Charlie Sheen's coattails. Probably because of fans like me who remember when the show was hilarious.

Johnny Walker said...

Wow, COMMUNITY got renewed... Weird. Did not see that one coming! Maybe they were happy with the figures all along (they stayed the same in the fourth season), but now don't have to deal with Harmon's antics.

Speaking of which: I can't imagine they'd ask Harmon back. Just like Sam Simon, he seems to openly acknowledge that he's difficult to work with. As much as the cast love working on Community, and don't seem to have anything bad to say about Harmon, I've heard them mention that they would sometimes arrive on Monday morning to find that only a few pages of script were ready.

One of his staff writers summed up his approach as: "That's great! Now throw it out."

Unless he's had some serious therapy, or was willing to run the show with someone else, I don't think it's a job he's suited for. Ever. (As much as I loved the show when he was running it.)

Then again, I wouldn't have guessed Community was going to be renewed, so what do I know?

"The bottom line on why shows get picked up – need, scheduling requirements (e.g. we need another multi-camera sitcom to go with our Tim Allen existing multi-camera sitcom), commitments to producers and studios, and first and foremost – does the network own the show? If there’s one slot open on NBC and you have a show at Warner Brothers that’s going up against a show owned by NBC/Universal, who do you think has the edge?"

Gee. If only there was some way of taking all this bullshit out of the equation. So maybe fans could give money to the artists directly and get the content they want? ;-P

Mike Heath said...

Somewhat shocked that COMMUNITY will be back. I like the show, but the writing was pretty weak this season. Really enjoyed GO ON. Thought it was fairly witty and better than lots of other shows.

Bill said...

Another fan of Go On, very surprised it was cancelled. I liked the mix, it meant you were never quite sure how people would react, and yes it was funny.

michael said...

Which would you prefer? Premiere your new series in the fall or the midseason so you have more time to develop the series? Or does getting the extra time mean more network changes?

Ed said...

I also liked GO ON. It was funny but didn't always produce big laughs. But the show had heart, was witty-smart and Matthew Perry is great.

I'm very skepical this will be replaced with something better.

Dean Hartman said...

Funny bit w/Mr. Perry @ the hockey game. But the rest of their drivel barely qualified as drivel. Not surprised to see his show go, it was mediocre (on a good night) and horrible, most others. I did try to watch it, I tried many, many times.

Hey, your Dodgers won a game! Will that do it for May? Whoever would've thought if not for the Angels and Mariners, Houston still would not have reached double figures in the win column. Did you think the Halos would already be 10 games out just 6 weeks into the season, trailing even the Mariners? OK, I'll give the M's a few props, they have been playing well lately, against teams with losing records. Still they beat some of them and split with the others. Surprise of the young season...umpire gets suspended for not knowing rule regarding change of pitchers! Excellent!

BigTed said...

"Happy Endings" -- basically a smart, goofier version of "Friends" with a great cast -- is a very funny show that might do well on cable. Plus, then Elisha Cuthbert, who's surprisingly adept at comedy, wouldn't be free to return to her role as annoying Kim Bauer on Fox's proposed new season of "24."

Mike said...

Count me on the "Go On" got better as it...went on... bandwagon, though I'm not surprised to see it go. I'm just most disappointed that we won't see a spin off with Julie White's character. I'm no Hollywood big wig, but somebody should be creating a show around her. She pretty much stole the show from Perry.

Michael Stoffel said...

I'm hot to see Mary McCormack back on TV!

BTW, Carmen Finestra is going the baseball route too this summer, doing the broadcasts for a summer college league team in Watertown, NY.

McAlvie said...

It's a shame about Go On, but the problem wasn't Perry. Basically, nobody watches NBC anymore, so very few people knew about it. I don't see how cancelling the show is going to fix that problem!

1600 Penn ... it's biggest problem was Josh Gad. yeah, I know it was his vehicle and all, but his style is too over the top for TV. Plus, really, in a show like this you need a character or, preferably, two who are "normal" to anchor the show around. Too much ditzy-dippy, and it gets old and tired really fast because there's no character for the viewer to identify with.

Joe said...

Friday Question: Ken, there was a rumor going around for a while that the cast of “Friends” would reunite for a brand new season of the show, ten years after it had gone off the air. I could see this working maybe with monster hits like “Sienfeld” or “Friends”. Do you think something like that could ever really work, years after a highly successful show ended?

Steve C said...

Crap, I really liked GO ON.

Paul Duca said...

What do you believe are the elements that that make producers decide to take a sitcom like MODERN FAMILY (or WINGS) to a cable network for reruns instead of broadcast syndication? (drama shows are a completely different animal--I feel I understand their reasons, especially with a combo of M-F on cable and weekend syndication).

jim briggs said...

I've thought that for a long time.

Lorimartian said...

No, Matthew, you're not the only one who doesn't get why the networks are falling all over themselves to cast Will Arnett. (The ONLY reason I can think of is to stay on Amy Poehler's good side, even though they're not together anymore.) He doesn't bring any dimension to his characters beyond what is on the page. Either he has nothing more to contribute or he doesn't know how. The rhythm of any scene he was in on 30 Rock came to a dead stop when he opened his mouth. He is probably a lovely person but far from a stellar talent.

Rowan said...

Hi Ken,

Assistance is getting retooled so it's not dead, yet.

Community's pick-up was a pleasant almost surprise for me. Universal TV is an owner and it's almost at the magic 100 episode mark so they're going for the syndication. Good. I'd love to see such an esoteric show make a profit.

I used to think Will Arnett was one note, like the others on here, but then I saw Up All Night. He was warm and sane and changed my mind. Unfortunately the show was retooled to death. Maya Rudolph is funny but in small doses. Small, small doses.

I get the scheduling requirements. Multi-cam shows have a different feel and pace than single-cam so pairing like with like would (hopefully) attract/keep the viewers. I like multi-cam shows (not the dogs I watched from Fox today) but in general. I wish there were more.

Anonymous said...

The casting of Parker Posey as J.K. Simmons' ex-wife seemed odd to me, so I'm not surprised she's been replaced. Both are good actors, but they just don't seem likely as a husband and wife, even if you're willing to spot them the 14-year age difference.

Ritter is talented and will get another chance, or several, at a series. I'd compare her to two other attractive actresses with comedy skills, Jennifer Aniston and Lauren Graham, who each had multiple failed series before "Friends" and "Gilmore Girls" caught on.

On the other hand, "Go On" is the third Matthew Perry series to be one-and-done. I'd imagine he can get plenty of work doing character roles, but I wonder how many more times someone will be willing to try to build a show around him.

Data point: I've never cared much for Will Arnett, either.

Molly said...

I also can't stand Will Arnett. I find his smarminess grating. And from all his shirtless scenes in "Up All Night", it's pretty clear he thinks he's hot stuff (he's not).

cadavra said...

"they just don't seem likely as a husband and wife"

Hence their divorce! :-D

Mike said...

Surprised about Go On. NBC seemed to really like that show. More surprised about Community. I guess that's good news? It's a pleasant enough show, but the quality just took a dip this season. The characters on the show seem more like they're playing caricatures of themselves, and overall it's got a more sitcommy feel. I didn't mind it when the season began, but as the season wore on, I just grew tired of it. 1600 Penn, meanwhile, got better as it went along, so I'm kinda sad to see it canceled, though not in the least surprised.

I had hoped a cable network would show an interest in ABC's Don't Trust the B---, much like USA is (rumored to be) interested in Happy Endings. Don't Trust the B--- was a vastly underrated show.

Rob said...

Glad "The Neighbors" got renewed (and for 22 episodes!). Anyone who tuned out after the pilot should reconsider - it turned into a wonderfully zany and family-friendly series with a surprising amount of heart. And Toks Olagundoye is a comedy treasure.

"Guys With Kids" was cute but forgettable. Zach Cregger had decent comedy skills but no jokes, and Tempestt Bledsoe and Anthony Anderson had good chemistry and should have their own series.

Oliver said...

I like Will Arnett, despite not being a fan of AD. I like his shtick, especially on 30 Rock. I thought he was good without his shtick on Up All Night.

NBC gave Go On every opportunity. They promoted the hell out of it in fall, gave it a huge preview after the Olympic, gave it a post-Voice timeslot, and it still ultimately performed worse than Community. I am pleasantly surprised they cancelled it.

Harmon on his podcast said that Sony reached out to him a few weeks ago about his willingness to return, but believes it was an unused bargaining chip to convince NBC to pick Community up for another season for syndication and he doesn't see it happening.

Paul Duca said...

I just learned from a friend Down Under...Fox is developing an American version of the Australian drama series RAKE, about an attorney who is to the legal profession what Gregory House is to the medical one--but with a LOT more vices. In fact, the character is currently serving a prison sentence for manslaughter, and a favorite novelty T-shirt there features the slogan "Free Cleaver Green". Greg Kinnear has been cast in the title role.

A_Homer said...

I'm glad for Community, but I think the graduation of Jeff Winger and Pearce should have been a good ending. The rest of the gang alone doesn't cut it. I hope they don't make Jeff a teacher at the college (his major was wryly put as "education") or for that matter, Dean-for-a-day or something like that. Speaking of which, Jim Rash should provide more scripts for next season.

I don't understand the "syndication" episode number anymore. The German tv channels have already produced and at this moment advertise dubbed versions of "New Normal", as well "Community" and "Apt B" and so on. Unheard of before this year, now cancelled, one season shows are bothered to be shown. I guess networks force the foreign markets buy bundles only to pay for the mistakes.

SimonMoon5 said...

[quote] Joe said...

Friday Question: Ken, there was a rumor going around for a while that the cast of “Friends” would reunite for a brand new season of the show, ten years after it had gone off the air. I could see this working maybe with monster hits like “Sienfeld” or “Friends”. Do you think something like that could ever really work, years after a highly successful show ended? [/quote]

I know that the British show "Are You Being Served?" did something like this seven years after it was over, with a show called "Grace and Favour" (or "Are You Being Served Again" in the USA). I'm not sure if it really worked, but it certainly was done.

Tom Mazzocco said...

Oh! It was called "Go On". I kept tuning in expecting to see Spike Milligan, thinking it was called "Goon". Is my face red?

Zappa the Unholy said...

On a side note about the original post. Kevin Smith agrees with you. Just read this:
Kevin Smith won't be seeking crowd-funding for his just-finished Clerks III script. Smith explained on Reddit that he was originally going to do so but has changed his mind since and will be funding the movie on his own.

"We nearly Kickstarted the budget back in November," Smith said. "But now I'm feeling like that's not fair to real indie filmmakers who need the help. Unlike back when I made CLERKS in '91, I've GOT access to money now - so I should use that money and not suck any loot out of the crowd-funding marketplace that might otherwise go to some first-timer who can really use it."

He continues, "So if I can get away with it, I'm gonna try to pay for CLERKS III myself. As much as I love the crowd-funding model (and almost did it myself in early 2009 with, that's an advancement in indie film that belongs to the next generation of artists. I started on my own dime, and if I'm allowed, I should finish on my own dime."

Read more at[Movies]-Kevin-Smith-Says-He-Won//t-Do-a-Clerks-III-Kickstarter.htm#y46wJ3B64feOeW5q.99