The pilot pickup season is just starting in earnest, but we already have an unusually large number of creators with multiple pilot orders. Peter Tolan, Whitney Cummings, Michael Patrick King and the duo of Andrew Reich and Ted Cohen have each received two pickups. Tolan wrote and is executive producing Fox’s comedy The Council of Dads and NBC’s Brave New World, Cummings wrote, executive produces and stars in an untitled comedy pilot for NBC about a young couple and co-wrote/executive produces the CBS comedy pilot Two Broke Girls with King. King also has NBC drama pilot A Mann’s World, on which he is the writer-executive producer. Reich and Cohen wrote and are executive producing two ABC comedy pilots, Work It and Smothered. Besides evoking an automatic reaction of “Come on, spread the wealth” from other writers who have projects in contention, the embarrassment of riches for the in-demand creators with multiple pilots comes with inevitable complications, putting pressure on the writer-producers in the pilot phase and facing them and the networks with some difficult choices come May.
NBC gave pilot orders to King’s A Mann’s World and the Whitney Cummings comedy over the past few days, more than a month after CBS picked the duo’s Two Broke Girls. And yet, I hear both NBC projects are in first position as they had been set up first. Because of Two Broke Girls‘ early pickup, the pilot is already deep into casting, so its schedule wouldn’t overlap completely with those for King and Cummings’ NBC pilots. Things will get complicated in the rare hypothetical situation of all 3 pilots turning out great but I hear CBS is prepared to make it work somehow if they love Two Broke Girls.
Tolan is not exclusive to anyone, so NBC and Fox are in equal positions on him. His Fox and NBC pilots were ordered hours apart, so Tolan has a hectic pilot production schedule ahead of him, especially if any of the other 2 projects he has set up at Fox and ABC gets picked up. (On them, he is executive producing but not writing.) And, as the sole creator-writer on both Council of Dads and Brave New World, he could end up having to juggle two new shows if both pilots make it to series.
Things are a little less complicated for Reich and Cohen because they are a team, so they can divvy up work on their two pilots and potential two series. And, unlike their counterparts, Reich and Cohen’s pilots are at the same network, ABC, which takes away the element of competition and gamesmanship that sometimes plays into the networks’ pilot and series pickup decisions.
While it is common practice for non-writing producers to shepherd multiple pilots, for writing producers it is rare, especially when they have created or co-co-created all the pilots. (More often, they write one and supervise other writer (s) on the others.) But we had an unusual situation this season, with two big-name creators, Tolan and King, returning to pilot writing after long hiatuses – to run his FX drama Rescue Me and to write-direct the two Sex and the City movies, respectively. That understandably created a lot of interest from the networks, which wanted to be in business with them, resulting in multiple buys. Meanwhile, Cummings is one of the hottest young pieces of comedy talent at the moment, while Reich and Cohen are seasoned comedy showrunners.
In most previous cases, the creators with multiple pilots have been teams, not individuals like we have this year. In 2007, David Guarascio and Moses Port had two pilots, NBC’s The IT Crowd and the CW’s Aliens in America, both of which went to series. An year earlier, In 2006, Cathy Yuspa and Josh Goldsmith wrote two pilots, Fox’s ‘Til Death and ABC’s Big Day, both of which also went to series. The two could go for a double again this season. NBC just picked up to pilot the comedy My Life as an Experiment, which Yuspa and Goldsmith wrote and executive produce. And the duo is awaiting word on their CBS project, an empty-nesters multicamera comedy.
There are other creators that could end up with multiple pilots too. Topping the list is American Dad executive producer Nahnatchka Khan, writer-executive producer of the recently picked up ABC pilot Don’t Trust the Bitch in Apt. 23. She has 2 other projects in contention: Connected, an edgy family comedy at Fox with a put pilot commitment, which she wrote, and relationship comedy Dealbreaker at ABC, which she co-wrote. And Chad Hodge, who penned the NBC period drama pilot Playboy also has a medical drama project in the running at the CW.