An Overview of TV’s 2013 Drama Development

…So that you’ll all know exactly what’s hot and what’s not, what to pitch and what to not pitch, what you’ve been writing that’s a solidly good usage of your time and what…oh, we’re so sorry…not:

platform_developmentDevelopment Season 2013: Fewer Dramas, Bigger (And Overblown) Commitments,
Early Orders, Spinoffs, Adaptations & Remakes
by Nellie Andreeva

Network drama has been on a roll with a string of strong premieres the last two seasons — Revolution, The Following and Arrow last season and The Blacklist, Sleepy Hollow and Marvel’s Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. and The Originals this fall.

But the genre will have to rely heavily on the quality vs. quantity principal if its wants to continue its hot streak as the volume is definitely not there for nprimetime-panic-2ext season. The drama buying got off to a very sluggish start in the summer and never found a higher gear. Drama pitches were down across the board.

For instance, I hear NBC took in 280 hourlong pitches, down from 330 last season. It eventually ordered 20-30 fewer drama scripts this year vs. 2012. “It was like Halloween with the networks living on a street where no one came to trick or treat,” one industry insider lamented. “They were open for months but no one was knocking on their doors.” Why was that? Likely because network dramas are not that special any more.

For decades, the broadcast networks were the home of drama series everyone was watching and critics loved. Then in 1999, David E. Kelley almost didn’t go out on stage to receive a best drama series Emmy for his ABC series The Practice. In his defense, he said he “thought they had made a mistake, and that The Sopranos had won.” It hadn’t, and broadcast dramas held their grip on the top a category for four more years until HBO’s mob drama in 2004 became the first cable show ever to win the best series Emmy in a precursor of the tidal shift to come.

Cable dramas now have won the top Emmy for the past seven years, with no signs of them letting up, while the U.S. commercial broadcasters were shut out completely from the category the last two years. Right now, working on a cable drama is more prestigious that writing on a broadcast one. With broadcast dramas no longer the syndication cash cows they once were, studios don’t pay a premium for writers to develop such shows anymore. “If they are not getting real money to develop for broadcast, writers may as well do cable for the creative freedom,” one observer noted.

Besides the prestige and awards recognition, cable dramas also are becoming more lucrative financially because of services like Netflix where serialized series are a top draw. And let’s not forget that the highest-rated scripted series on television for the past two years is a cable drama, AMC’s The Walking Dead. All that has led to an exodus of broadcast showrunners to cable. The writers room of Emmy-winning first season of Showtime’s Homeland alone featured enough showrunner-level writers to service several broadcast dramas.

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