Welcome to The Runway! Each Friday between now and the May upfronts, we’ll take a closer look at one aspect of 2014’s Pilot Season. This week’s topic: Macro Trends. Let’s go…
We all know the TV industry is in flux. Total viewership is declining, time shifting is increasing , and “Jeopardy!” has an anti-hero who refuses to go linearly through categories. But what of pilot season?
Pilot Season is the period between January and April when TV networks order presentations of potential upcoming shows. Of the roughly 100 total comedy and drama pilots made each year, less than 40 will ever air. Pilot season is a lot like dating — studio heads will flirt with a lot of shows before ultimately committing to the ones with the most long-term potential (i.e. the ones that will make it to syndication or can be pre-sold overseas).
One other thing about pilot season… it’s dead. This according to Fox Chairman Kevin Reilly. He said they’ll no longer be participating in this costly boondoggle. So what will replace pilot season at Fox? Straight-to-series orders and continuous year round development. Despite his proclamation, Fox has a pretty robust slate this year, including the much anticipated “Gotham”. So I don’t think pilot season isn’t going anywhere… yet.
Though not all 2013 series pickups have aired, it’s safe to say last year’s pilot season was a disappointment. As was the year before that and the year before that and the year before that, etc. 2013 saw some very specific trends — shows built around stars (“Super Fun Night”, “The Crazy Ones” and “The Blacklist”), shows built around existing IP (“Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D”, “Sleepy Hollow”, “Once Upon a Time in Wonderland”) and shows built around non-traditional families (“Welcome to the Family”, “Trophy Wife”, “The Millers”). 2014 pilots have some very specific trends as well — shows built around stars (“Untitled Kevin Hart Comedy”, “The Winklers”, “Secrets & Lies”), shows built around existing IP (“Gotham”, “How I Met Your Dad”, “Emerald City”) and shows built around non-traditional families (“Cuz-Bros”, “The Mistake”, “Mason Twins”). And they say nothing original comes out of Hollywood.
But 2014 is shaping up to have some new interesting trends. And here are a few:
1. Straight-to-Series Orders. This has been done in the past (see last year’s critically reviled “Dads”). But not to this degree. Shows like “Tooken” (EP: Tina Fey, Robert Carlock), “Battle Creek” (EP: Vince Gilligan) and “The Club” (EP: Susannah Grant). What do all these shows have in common? Big name EPs with leverage to demand the networks bypass pilots and go straight to series.
2. Buddy shows. Networks have been looking for a “Friends”-style hit since… well, since “Friends” aired. Now they’re looking for the next “The Odd Couple” with such shows as… well, “The Odd Couple” (Matthew Perry). There’s also “Mason Twins”, “Cuz-Bros”, “Sober Companion”, “Lifesaver” and more.
3. Imported Dramas. This actually got some momentum last year with disasters “Hostages” and “Lucky 7”. But why not go to the well again when it isn’t working? This year’s list of remakes include “Secrets & Lies”, “Red Band Society”, “Coercion”, “Mysteries of Laura”, and “Jane the Virgin”.
There’s plenty more trends to explore before May and we’ll get granular with a weekly network-by-network look at each pilot slate. Thanks for reading and stay tuned next week for an in-depth preview of ABC Comedy Pilots, including the answer to the perennial question: Can Paul Lee ever find anything to successfully pair with “Modern Family”?