Nellie Andreeva gets down about the state of TV’s basic paradigms. Thanks, Nellie! (Yeah, we wanted to say, “Whoa, Nellie!” but managed to rein ourselves in.)
Year-End: Will Broadcast Pilot Season Paradigm Finally Be Broken & Other TV Industry Questions For 2014
by Nellie Andreeva
Broadcast executives for years have been preaching about switching to a year-round development cycle or adopting the cable model of producing fewer pilots with higher pilot-to-series ratio. They have been ordering occasional off-cycle pilots and have jumped on scripts with pilot orders in November and December but are yet to break the traditional pilot season paradigm.
This coming year, they may be forced to. In 2013, we had what was probably the first true continuous pilot season, with existing and new cable and digital players constantly handing out pilot and straight-to-series orders. Add to that the new push into limited/event series arena, and there were at least a dozen projects casting at any time of the year. That has kept casting directors and TV talent agents busy and has further depleted the acting talent pool.
Every year, there are a handful of pilots that are left unproduced because of difficulty casting. There is quiet panic in the air these days that this coming pilot season we will see a lot more of that. It is the logical next step after the proliferation of scripted programming across different platforms caused a shortage of writers, especially on the drama side, pushing the number of drama buys this development season way down.
A cancelled series used to mean a cast available for the following broadcast pilot season. When ABC in January 2010 announced that Ugly Betty was going to end that spring, it created a feeding frenzy for the stars of the show that pilot season. Now actors from cancelled shows are snatched long before the following broadcast pilot season rolls along.
For instance, the CW said in May that drama Nikita was calling it a day with a final six-episode installment. Its male leads, Shane West and Aaron Stanford are already spoken for with big roles in cable projects — West is the male lead on WGN America’s first scripted series, drama Salem, Stanford is the lead of Syfy’s pilot 12 Monkeys, based on Terry Gilliam’s movie, with his Nikita co-star Noah Bean also cast in the pilot.
The ramp-up of original scripted production by emerging players has been staggering. WGN America only announced its entry into the space in March. It now has two straight-to-series dramas, Salem and Manhattan, and ten-part event series Ten Commandments slated to air next year. Amazon alone ordered and cast some 13 comedy and drama pilots this past year, almost double the yearly pilot output of a broadcast network, the CW.
Other new outlets greenlighting scripted pilots and series now are Netflix, Bravo, E!, DirecTV, We TV, xBox and Hulu. We also saw a rapid rise in ambitious, multi-series/movie-to-series packages, like Marvel’s 60-episode, four-series and mini-series with such comic book characters as Daredevil at Netflix and Manhattan producer Skydance’s plan for a series to tie its upcoming Terminator movie trilogy. All those projects will be looking for casts.