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FOX, CW Cut Back on Scripts, NBC Universal to End Pilot Season?

It's clear that networks are scaling back this year on series development, with an announcement from CBS over the weekend that they would cut costs this year by junking about 20 pilot scripts in development.

FOX quickly followed suit yesterday, pulling the plug on close to twenty pilot scripts from an array of studios, including 20th Century Fox Television.

"In the current environment, we've been forced to take a hard look at our needs for the upcoming season, and as a result, we're going to target a more focused range of projects," said FOX in a statement.

Just a few hours later, netlet the CW did the same, gutting about a dozen projects on both the drama and comedy sides.

"Due to the ongoing work stoppage, the CW will be taking a more targeted approach to what is certain to be a truncated pilot season," said CW via a prepared statement. "As a result, we are releasing some scripts that had been in development in order to dedicate our creative energy and resources to those projects we choose to pursue."

Most projects affected were scripts that had not been turned into the studio prior to the start of the WGA strike at the start of November, so it hardly comes as a surprise that the networks would cancel those deals.

ABC has indicated that it too would make similar cuts in the next few days, possibly cutting up to 30% of its script inventory, but has yet to announce any formal decision.

While NBC has yet to announce any pilot script cuts, NBC Universal honcho Jeff Zucker told The New York Times today that he will move to eliminate most pilots in order to save as much as $50 million a year, a decision based upon the continuing WGA strike and the state of the national economy.
Networks like NBC have long relied on big-budget pilot episodes of television series in an effort to attract advertiser support for the rest of the season. But Mr. Zucker said the pilots, the first episode of a show and whose production cost has shot up to $7 million for an hour from about $3 million three years ago, were a poor indicator of the future success of a series and many never move beyond the pilot stage.

“So you’re spending money on programs you’re not going to get,” Mr. Zucker said.

He said NBC might still commission “one or two” pilots a season, but would not do so as a matter of course.
I find those statements absolutely chilling, especially in an age when the television landscape is littered with poor quality reality series and a further onslaught of even more unscripted fare is soon to be unleashed upon the public if the strike continues.

To only commission one or two pilots a season seems particularly foolhardy, given the age of many of NBC's top performers, like ER and the venerable Law & Order franchise, and the fact that none of NBC's recent scripted launches have performed with any boffo numbers. Eventually these series will need to be replaced with fresh blood and I shudder to think that the lack of reliance on scripted pilots means more things like Celebrity Circus or Baby Borrowers.

Still, is Zucker's NBC decree really legitimate and not just corporate posturing in the face of the strike? Who can say. I'm hoping that things change once the WGA and AMPTP reach an accord (which has to happen eventually) and everyone here in Hollywood can return to work.

Does the January-to-May pilot season model still make sense these days? Possibly not, but I'd rather see studios and networks move to year-round development of pilots than see these phased out altogether.

Stay tuned.

What's On Tonight

8 pm: Power of 10 (CBS); Deal or No Deal (NBC); Wife Swap (ABC); American Idol (FOX)

9 pm: Criminal Minds (CBS);
Law & Order: Criminal Intent (NBC); Supernanny (ABC); Moment of Truth (FOX)

10 pm: CSI: New York (CBS); Law & Order (NBC); Cashmere Mafia (ABC)

What I'll Be Watching

10 pm: Project Runway on Bravo.

On tonight's episode ("Even Designers Get the Blues"), the remaining designers are tasked with creating an original denim design out of jeans and jackets of various hues and textures; Jillian reaches her breaking point; Ricky turns on the waterworks once more.


Unknown said…
Too much unscripted fare? You mean you don't enjoy the return of American Gladiators, Jace? :)

Why do the WGA and AMPTP have to reach an agreement eventually? Why do they need a contract? I'll be the first to say I don't know the ins-and-outs of the TV industry and how all the guilds interact, but why can't the writers (and others) move to a system where they sell their wares on a job-by-job basis like other professions do? Have a good script? Auction it off to the studios.

Do you see the impact of the strike reaching beyond the TV/cable industry? I wonder if it's inhibiting the uptake of new televisions and hi-def cable subscriptions. (Or do people really buy a new set just to watch football and American Idol?)
Anonymous said…
While I don't agree that NBC will be able to get away with only developing "one to two" pilots a year (sounds like posturing to me) I do approve of the year-round development season. I think the Brits have it right by having shorter runs of shows but programming that continues all year long. It keeps things more interesting and gives smaller shows a better chance of survival.
Anonymous said…
Zucker is full of shit and everybody knows it. Pilots may be expensive as hell and god knows the process needs to be tightened but how are you going to sell advertising when you can't show the buyers what space they are buying.

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